American Catholics vs. Their Church: Disagreements On Social Issues

March 13, 2013, 1:00 PM GMT+0

(Week of 3/9/2013) Catholics have become much more liberal than their Church when it comes to personal behavior – especially on questions about sexual behavior. Even when it comes to same-sex marriage, which has affected U.S. politics for years and is something on which the Catholic Church takes a clear position against, many Catholics deviate from Church teaching. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, 42% of Catholics believe the Catholic Church should sanction gay marriage.

48% oppose this.

As is true nationally, there are gender differences when it comes to support for gay marriage: 56% of men oppose the Church permitting same-sex marriages; about half of women are in favor.

Women tend to be more religious than men. And while increased religiosity usually means increased opposition to gay marriage, gender seems to mute its impact on this issue.

Even more Catholics deviate from Church leadership on other questions. 61% believe abortion should be permitted in some cases. 64% say the Church should accept divorce for Catholics. And 63% favor the use of artificial means of birth control.

While there is no gender gap when it comes to opinion about abortion, there is a difference in how Catholic men and women view birth control and divorce. Women are much more likely than men to favor the Church allowing divorce for Catholics. 53% of men say it should. Women’s support is 19 points higher: 72% of them want the Church to permit divorce.

A clear majority of men, 59%, favor the Church allowing the use of artificial means of birth control. But even more women, 67%, favor the Church’s teaching on this issue.

On the current birth control debate – whether health care plans should be required to cover contraception -- Americans overall believe they should. That’s especially true of women: women think health insurance plans should be required to cover contraception by 52% to 30%, while men disagree 46% to 39%. Overall, Catholics agree that employer health care plans should cover contraception, and by a similar margin as the public overall.

Americans are closely divided on whether religiously-affiliated hospitals and colleges should be exempt from that requirement. Men say they should; women disagree. Catholics are also evenly split on this question.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here

Photo source: Press Association