An article in today’s USA Today explores the connection between legislative proposals for marriage equality and the relative proportion of people answering “None” for their religion on the recent American Religious Identification Survey. The results, of course, are no surprise:
Same-sex marriage proposals are sweeping into New England state legislatures this spring, particularly in places where organized religious opposition may be the weakest…states where the percentage of “nones”—people who say they have no religion—is at or above the national average of 15% are more likely to push expanding the scope of marriage, civil unions or same-sex partner rights.
For example, Vermont’s Senate just passed a same-sex marriage bill, which is expected to be passed by the House this week. And Vermont also has the highest percentage of the religiously unaffiliated in the nation at 34%. A similar situation is found in neighboring New Hampshire, where a marriage equality bill is expected to pass soon, and the unaffiliated are 29% of the population.
The analysis also found the reverse to be true: the states with the highest percentage of adherents to conservative religious sects were most likely to have taken legislative action against same-sex marriage. That, of course, is not news.
But what is particularly interesting in all of this is the generational aspect:
Barry Kosmin, Trinity College sociologist and co-director of the survey, says the correlation (between support for same-sex marriage and lack of religious affiliation) is no coincidence. “Given that 25% of GenX (those ages 29 to 42) and GenY (ages 18 to 28) are nones, this is where we are headed,” he says. “It’s a standoff between young people with a tremendous sympathy for civil rights and what appears to be biblical injunctions from religion.”
I think it’s very significant that the opponents of marriage equality have been generally unable to articulate a secular case for their position. For example, an essay on same-sex marriage by religious right leader James Dobson concludes like this:
Marriage is a sacrament designed by God that serves as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and His church. Tampering with His plan for the family is immoral and wrong. To violate the Lord’s expressed will for humankind, especially in regard to behavior that He has prohibited, is to court disaster.
That message simply doesn’t resonate with the unaffiliated, for obvious reasons. Frankly, to a large portion of society it reads like gibberish.
Opponents of marriage equality have had more success when they can obfuscate the religious basis of their opposition with judicial or legal issues, such as with the recent successful passage of Proposition 8 in California. The proponents of the measure seemed to be successful in convincing enough people that the real issue was that the California State Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage rights was trampling on democratic rule. Nevertheless, the margin of victory for Prop 8 was narrow.
California missed the chance to lead the nation into a new era of greater marriage equality, but other states, all with relatively high percentages of unaffiliated, or “nones,” are moving forward:
Coming up: Legislatures in Rhode Island (nones 19%) and Maine (nones 25%) will hold hearings this spring on marriage “equality” bills. Nearby in New York (nones 14%), the Legislature could approve a bill “by the Fourth of July,” Rouse says.
This new push in the post Prop 8 era is very encouraging. With the diminished influence of conservative sects of Christianity all over the United States, I hope we’ll see this push for marriage equality continue and spread out of its current Northeast stronghold.