Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

While we’re on the subject of the relationship between religion and
social views, I’ve just received a pre-publication copy of a paper
written by University of Southern Illinois sociology prof. Darren
Sherkat and a couple of colleagues analyzing the connections between
religion, partisan politics, and views of same-sex marriage. Yes, it”s a
gnarly regression-analysis-laden exercise that will appear later this
year in the journal Social Science Research–but it provides an excellent window into the structure of the culture wars in our time.

The paper looks at the two-decade period between 1988 and 2008, during
which same-sex marriage went from being opposed by two-thirds of the
American adult population to less than one-half. In 1988, opposition was
more or less the same among Democrats and Republicans, and among the
various species of Christians. Now there’s a substantial divergence
between “sectarian Protestants” (evangelicals) and Republicans on the
one hand and everyone else on the other. In a word, the sectarians and
the Republicans have shifted far less towards acceptance of same-sex
marriage than the rest of the population.

What Sherket et al.’s regressions show is that Republicanism as well as
evangelicalism operate as independent variables: Both push their members
toward opposition to same-sex marriage. (Just as, it seems, Democratic
ideology pushes in the opposite direction.) Unfortunately, the
researchers did not create an age cohort of voters born after 1978 that
would enable us to see if sectarians in their 20s differed significantly
from their elders. Be that as it may, the paper shows how a social
issue that didn’t significantly divide the public on partisan lines two
decades ago has come to do so. You don’t have to look further than this
week’s vote on Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell to understand the dynamics.

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