Religious Gay Acceptance on the Rise; More Than Just Marriage Happening for Gays at the Altar

Religious conservatives seem to be becoming a minority faster than we think, thanks to what the Atlantic is calling the “Quiet Gay Rights Revolution”, in churches across the country. The social shift towards the acceptance of same sex couples has continued to put pressure on religious institutions to show support of, or at least stop openly condemning, LGBT equality.

From President Obama’s reelection after his marriage equality statement to the Pope’s message that that gay people should not be marginalized, the future is looking a little brighter for LGBT people of faith. The wave of this movement ranges from the rising population of actively engaged left-wing Christians to the sects and/or congregations who are begrudgingly coming to acceptance so as not to lose popular favor. What is the driving force of this change? It’s twofold: both in response to recent court decisions that are legalizing same sex unions and to a network of outreach campaigns from local and national organizations. We’re familiar with the legal victories, but the social movements within the religious sector also have a tremendous impact. Various campaigns have worked to negatively spotlight and marginalize gay marriage opponents, in order to discredit leaders of large congregations (like megachurches) and insist that they do not speak for the entire community.

Some of this change is being spearheaded by the leaders themselves. Delman Coates, the head of Mount Ennon Baptist Church, (which has 8,000 members), used the experience of a family member as the catalyst to reshape his opinion. In early 2012, Coates testified in support of a bill in Maryland legalizing same-sex marriage. Though not expressive of his personal beliefs, Coates did say, “It is not a question of private belief, but whether all citizens of this state have the same rights.” As a prominent African American religious leader, this decision made a clear statement that sits in opposition to the opinion of the majority of prominently African American churches. For many Southern Baptists, as explained by Russell Moore, head of Southern Baptist Public Policy, among churchgoing, conservative evangelicals, the convictions haven’t changed at all. But there is fatigue — more than fatigue — there is a rejection of seeing those who disagree with us as enemies.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, the shift in attitude regarding same sex coupling is measurable, with Jewish Americans leading the progressive inclusivity as the more outspoken evangelicals and Protestants are slowly evolving:

Religious groups fall on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. More than 8-in-10 (81%) Jewish Americans, roughly three-quarters (76%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 59% of Hispanic Catholics, 58% of white Catholics, and 55% of white mainline Protestants favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. By contrast, more than 7-in-10 (71%) white evangelical Protestants, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Hispanic Protestants, and 57% of black Protestants oppose same-sex marriage.

Progressive members of religious groups are working to redefine the messages surrounding their communities to emphasize the teachings of compassion and tolerance. On the large scale, the Human Rights Commission has looked to become involved in religious festivals and events. Sharon Groves, director of the religion and faith program of the HRC described their participation in the annual Wild Goose festival to The Atlantic as enlightening and healing for those in attendance. A smaller but effective organization in New York, Empire State Pride, started a three-tiered program to educate and rally support from three traditionally conservative and politically influential sectors of the community: corporations, labor unions, and people of faith. These campaigns, titled Pride in the Workplace, Pride in Our Union, and Pride in the Pulpit, opened the dialogue between the LGBT rights organization and the wider community. From the description of Pride in the Pulpit:

Pride in the Pulpit works to build a network of congregations and faith leaders and elevate the voices of leaders of faith who support equality and justice for LGBT people and their families. Members of Pride in the Pulpit advocate for equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers and build support for LGBT issues in their congregations and faith communities.

This quiet revolution also has to credit the millennials, as the increased acceptance of LGBT issues in the church can be attributed to the younger members of the congregations. As recently reported by The Atlantic,  23 percent of 18- to 33-year-olds are religious progressives, 17 percent are religious conservatives, and 22 percent are nonreligious. By contrast, only 12 percent of 66- to 88-year-olds are religious progressives, while about half are religious conservatives. With the progression of each generation, the number of religious conservatives has declined and balanced out between religious moderate and religious progressive. This trend has been dubbed the Rise of the Christian Left.

There’s hope that with the continued work of local organizations and progressive religious activists, the Christian Left mentality will be a reflection of the majority of churches across the nation. The ulta-religious rightwing is wavering as GOP politics have catered to extremists that no longer speak to the moral sensibilities of our changing society. The cultural marginalization of the religious conservatives signals a shift in power, giving voice to young leaders who want to emphasize community building over exclusion.

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Jamie has written 7 articles for us.


  1. These are some of the most awesome statistics I’ve seen in a while.

    Also, we’re not covered here, but Mormons are changing too! Quite slowly, and I’d have to dig to find real numbers, but I’ve noticed a definite shift happening among young LDS in just the last handful of years. Plus, you all should have seen the massive crowd of supportive Mormons at SLC Pride this year. Fantastic.

    • The Mormons changing are true! I had this one classmate from wayyyy back when and they used to be so “YES ON 8!!” and recently she actually asked me about my sexuality and what the DOMA and PRop8 thing meant. As I was explaining, she suddenly said “Well, I think everyone should have equal rights whether they’re gay or not. I mean it’s not caring about others if you try to deny them a right right?”

  2. As someone who is currently exploring and learning about their faith, this is truly heartening news. I recently discovered that the local synagogue I go to incorporates music by Debbie Friedman, a lesbian. My little queer heart feels included now that I know that. Also, I feel like there is some connection between minorities and Judaism? I suppose it is because of the narrative dealing with concepts such as liberation, not oppressing strangers, and loving each other.

    • I just read a article in the LA times about how a local L.A. Rabbi, who is popular among the younger crowed came out in support, but many of the long time members are not happy about it, who are actually in the minority are the most vocal about it. The thing is the ones not happy are predominately Persian, because we are a bit a more old school when it comes to religion, specially those who weren’t raised in the states.

      I want to agree with you there, except Persian Jews who are kind of were/are oppressed minority in the area aren’t being too kind to us. Like it’s great that the Jewish community and many other religious communities are having higher rates of acceptance more than ever, but the party of the community I am part of seems the opposite and is part of the reason why I am afraid to come out as my truer me to my family.

  3. Wish I could say the same for one of our local priests who says every other Sunday that society is ‘sick.’ Haha. I try to let it go out the other ear. Maybe Pope Francis would help him see the light.

  4. Whoo! As a queer person of faith, these statistics fill my heart with glee. I’ve definitely seen some shifts in the atmosphere at my church of 15 years towards acceptance and support.

    I wish there were statistics on Islamic Americans, though, as the Persian side of my family is very homophobic still, and I’m curious where the community as a whole falls.

  5. Growing up in a very conservative Southern Baptist church, this is like a breath of fresh air. Love to see stuff like this is happening as I am (very slowly) coming out.

  6. This is a beautiful and heart warming article for me. I’m an artist and I made a sculpture once describing my struggle of letting past experiences with the church (and their attitudes towards LGBTQ peoples) affect/ taint my current search for faith. My girlfriend grew up Southern Baptists with her dad as her preacher. She is out to them now but they only tolerate her and are openly against gay rights. She harbors a lot of anger and resentment to the church and all religion. Me, I’m just indifferent. A lot of LGBTQ struggle with getting over the pain religion has caused them and I guess that was what I portraying with my sculpture, but this article is like a beacon of hope. Something I try not to give in to much. I WILL BE PASING THIS ON TO MY GIRLFRIEND! … and everyone.

  7. Love this! As a queer Christian (<- label used loosely, as it has so many negative connotations), I often feel pretty ostracized from a large chunk of the LGBTQ community for being gay AND religious, and honestly I've received a lot of eye-rolls in my direction. Since I frequently have to explain that being a person of faith isn't exclusive from being queer and doesn't mean I hate science or have soup for brains, I'm hoping that as these statistics get even better(!!!), there will be continued growth in acceptance from both sides. Which I know will happen in time, and I'm super stoked for!

  8. I strongly recommend to anyone who may be looking for open and accepting churches to check out the UCC (United Church of Christ) as well!

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