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New Research: 64% of Americans Believe Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage Is Inevitable

Findings released recently in a new report by LifeWay Research show 64 percent of American adults agree it is inevitable same-sex marriage will become legal throughout the United States, and 58 percent see it as a civil rights issue.

Many have commented that public sentiment towards the inevitability of same-sex marriage has increased in recent years. This increase even has some conservative Republican leaders, such as Newt Gingrich, all but conceding a future where same-sex marriage is legalized throughout the nation. To be fair, I think it is worth remembering that the large majority of states have defined marriage as between a man and a woman, so the inevitability is certainly up for debate. Yet, things are clearly shifting.

Still, a sizable but declining minority of Americans see homosexual behavior as sinful, but society is not just increasingly accepting, but they see those who are not accepting as discriminatory and unfair. As I wrote on my blog and later in USAToday, this can have repercussions that go all the way to the White House, but the shift is obvious.

The issue is not going away and you cannot ignore it. The culture (58% of Americans, to be exact) sees this as a “justice” issue– Christians discriminating on the basis of immutable characteristics, like race. Christians have believed and taught that this is a scriptural and moral issue. Those things are going to collide more and more in years to come.

President Obama states that his justification for supporting same-sex marriage is the Golden Rule– the idea that we should treat others justly, as we would want to be treated. So, we should not be shocked at the responses in this survey. Many people believe that those opposed to same-sex marriage are discriminating against other people– much like keeping African-Americans out of a certain section of a restaurant or bus. They see that as unjust and those who practice such as bigoted.

This will have an impact on many churches. For example, in Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and Churches that Reach Them, we asked unchurched 20-something young adults, “If you were considering visiting or joining a church, would knowing that the church did not welcome and affirm homosexual members negatively or positively impact your decision?”

The overwhelming majority of the younger unchurched reported this would negatively impact their decision. The range of responses varied by type (as defined in the book). For example, 83 percent of the “always unchurched” and 52 percent of the “friendly unchurched” indicated that they would react negatively to a church that does not “welcome and affirm” homosexuals as members. As a whole, it was 67% of the younger unchurched who said it would negatively impact their decision.

So, it will impact who you reach and how you reach them.

Yet, there is also another “rights” issue explored in this study– that of religious rights. This is also seen in the research as Americans believe the prerogative still exists for individuals such as clergy or photographers to deny certain services for same-sex marriage. However, the level of agreement changes with scenarios that could be interpreted as more basic rights such as housing and employment.

From the release:

— 63 percent agree and 27 percent disagree that pastors should be allowed to refuse to officiate same-sex weddings if they are made legal in their state;

— 58 percent agree and 33 percent disagree that photographers should be allowed to refuse to work same-sex weddings if they are made legal in their state;
— 40 percent agree and 52 percent disagree that rental halls should be allowed to refuse to rent out their facilities for same-sex weddings if they are made legal in their state;
— 27 percent agree and 67 percent disagree landlords should be allowed to refuse to rent housing to same-sex couples if same-sex marriage is made legal in their state;
— 14 percent agree and 82 percent disagree employers should be allowed to refuse employment to someone based on their sexual preference.

It is also interesting to note that in all scenarios of the survey, men are more likely than women to agree these individuals should have the right to refuse services, rental agreements, or employment– as are Americans calling themselves “born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and he has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves at his local church, Highpoint Church, as a teaching pastor. Dr. Stetzer is currently living in England and teaching at Oxford University.