Support for gay marriage has increased in the United States in recent years, and it's actually higher among Catholics than it is among Americans overall.
A majority of Catholics, 54 percent, now support gay marriage, compared to 47 percent of all Americans, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
The poll also found that more Hispanics, Catholic or otherwise, support same-sex marriage than any other demographic. Sixty-three percent of self-identified Hispanics are in favor of gay marriage, compared to just 32 percent of blacks and 48 percent of whites.
It's not the first time in recent history that Quinnipiac has found more support than not for gay marriage among Catholics. A poll in December of white Catholics found that 49 percent favored gay marriage and 43 percent opposed it. This latest poll surveyed total Catholics, not just whites, and found a higher level of support than among whites only.
The increase in support for gay marriage among Catholics coincides with an overall increase in support for the idea in the United States. High-profile public officials, including President Barack Obama, have increasingly taken a pro-gay-marriage stance. Obama announced last spring that he supports same sex-marriage, and former President Bill Clinton wrote in a Thursday opinion piece for The Washington Post that the Defense of Marriage Act he signed into law in 1996 should be overturned. That act defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
"When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that 'enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination," Clinton wrote in the Post. "Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned."
The issue of gay marriage is set to take center stage in the coming months. The Supreme Court is expected to take up a challenge to DOMA later this month and consider whether California's ban on gay marriage should hold.
The poll also looked at how American Catholics view the Catholic Church. Adult Catholics, it indicates, think the Church is out of touch with the views of American Catholics, as a majority disagree with key Church positions, such as opposition to gay marriage.
But the poll additionally found that women are more likely than men to think Church leaders are in touch with the views of American Catholics. The finding is surprising given that women are also more likely to think the next pope should move the Church in new directions and away from some of its traditional positions, such as the ban on contraception. Nearly 70 percent of women want the Church to relax that ban.
While the poll indicates some disillusionment with the current stances of the Church, a majority of American Catholics think the pope and other Church leaders in Rome exert the right amount of control over the American Catholic Church. They also generally think the Church is moving in the right direction. The percentage who feel that way, however, has declined by 14 points from 66 percent eight years ago in April 2005. Some of that may have to do with the sex abuse scandals that have plagued the Church in recent years. More than 80 percent think the next pope should do more to fight sex abuse by priests.
American Catholics also want the new pope to facilitate a transition to more modern practices. A majority think the next pope should allow priests to marry and should soften the ban on contraception.