Why Would More Latino Catholics Be For Same-Sex Marriage Than Protestants?

As we reported earlier this week the Public Religion Research Institute issued a new poll about religion and California’s Proposition 8. Prop. 8 passed two years ago by 52 percent, and defined marriage in the state as being between a man and a woman. The survey showed a slim majority would vote to keep gay marriage legal in the state if the 2008 vote were held again today.

One of the most interesting findings of the poll was the split between Latino Catholics and their Latino Protestant brothers and sisters. Both groups had warmed to the idea of marriage equality for gays and lesbians, but Latino Catholics outpaced Latino Protestants in acceptance of the idea (57 percent to 22 percent respectively).

In a column in the Washington Post, Joseph M. Palacios, an Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, writes a very thoughtful piece about why support for gay marriage is growing among Latino Catholics. He suggests that the communal worship style of Catholicism over the very individual style of Protestant worship makes Latino Catholics more sensitive to how others are treated within their community. This difference leads to a split in how Latino Catholics and Protestants view the goal of their faith:

The study illustrates this communal-individual faith difference by noting that Latino Protestants (37%) lean toward a style of religious social engagement prioritizing “personal morality and faith” over a Catholic (59%) orientation that prioritizes “justice and action.”

Palacious also points out what the poll found—Latino Catholics are more flexible in how they interpret the Bible:

Catholics allow complexity and ambiguity in moral decision-making since Catholicism is neither fundamentalist nor literalist regarding the Bible. Rather, Catholics can weigh factors such as the Bible, church teaching, and social reality affecting decision-making.

His most interesting point is that around family, and how the Latino culture has changed to accommodate its gay and lesbian children:

Latino Catholics orient their social lives around the family and extended family even in the context of high Latino single-parent households (estimated 33% of all U.S. Latino households; 36% of all Latino Children in California live in single-parent households). Family solidarity is strong and even though children may not follow “traditional family values” as projected by the church and the US society, parents want to keep their children within the family.

While the whole Latino Catholic/Protestant divide is interesting, does it mean that Latino Protestants are big players in how the issue of marriage equality gets decided down the road? The numbers say, “Probably not.”

As Sarah Posner reported here last month:

Data based on the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, released by Trinity College, shows that Catholics still predominate among Latinos (60%) and that the fastest growing segment of Latinos is not evangelicals, but “nones” (no religion). The NCHLC claims to represent 16 million born-again Latinos and over 25,000 congregations in the United States. But the ARIS data shows only 7 million non-Catholic Latinos, representing 22% of all Latinos (down from 25% in 1990), while “nones” were “up from less than a million or 6% of the population in 1990 to nearly 4 million and 12% in 2008.” Might the influence of Latino evangelicals who oppose LGBT rights be overplayed?

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