God bless America: The top reason religious conservatives oppose same-sex marriage

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Lawn ornaments

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"He Has Risen" & "God Bless America" Lawn Ornaments, On Route 31 (Just North Of Beulah, MI)

Lawn ornaments

“He Has Risen” & “God Bless America” Lawn Ornaments, On Route 31 (Just North Of Beulah, MI)

Guest post by Daniel Bennett

Public support for same-sex marriage has inched past the symbolic fifty-percent mark in most polls. This means that a sizeable segment of society still opposes same-sex marriage.

Some of this opinion is based on morality and values, which is often shaped by one’s personal relationships with LGBT friends.

But this isn’t the whole story. There are many things that people find morally objectionable that do not want to outlaw. What is it that makes people link their religious beliefs to this public policy?

I found an answer to this question last weekend while I was on a panel at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Andrew Whitehead, a sociologist at Clemson University, and Samuel Perry of the University of Chicago presented new research on what really drives opposition to same-sex marriage in the United States.

Whitehead and Perry find that the key is a person’s embrace of Christian nationalism. This is the notion that God has chosen the U.S. and that the nation must follow God’s commands to flourish. People who embrace this view are much more likely to oppose same-sex marriage. Those who don’t believe in it are more open to supporting same-sex marriage.

Using data from the most recent Baylor Religion Survey, Whitehead and Perry draw on several questions to capture this notion of Christian nationalism. These questions measured beliefs that the federal government should

  • not enforce a strict separation of church and state,
  • allow prayer in public schools
  • allow religious symbols to be displayed in public spaces,
  • declare the U.S. a Christian nation, and
  • advocate Christian values.

In addition, they also used a question asking about the belief that the U.S. has received special blessings from God. The stronger one’s responses on these questions, the higher one’s support for Christian nationalism.

The effect of Christian nationalism in this study was substantial. Nearly 90 percent of people with the lowest support for Christian nationalism support same-sex marriage, compared to just six percent of people with the highest levels.

Importantly, the impact of Christian nationalism explains opposition to same-sex marriage even when accounting for other well-known factors, such as believing in the inerrancy of scripture and espousing political conservatism.

If you support teacher-led prayer in schools and believe American success is part of God’s plan, you are also likely to oppose same-sex marriage. But even if you’re a conservative, you likely support same-sex marriage if you view the government as a secular institution that should stay away from religious expression.

So, same-sex marriage is about more than morality or ideology. It is about how people view the United States of America.

Daniel Bennett (@bennettdaniel), PhD, researches the conservative legal movement. He is a professor of political science at Eastern Kentucky University.

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