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Exploring Religion

Session 7: Overview

Religion and Sexuality

Learning objective

  • Understand how religion affects attitudes toward sexuality, and how sexual minority groups navigate religiosity

In addition to all the ways that religion is intertwined with gender (Module 7), religion also is a powerful social force when it comes to understanding views toward sexuality. We can take homosexuality as an example. In the United States, views on homosexuality remained relatively stable on the General Social Survey from about 1973 to 1990. However, beyond that point, societal-level views started to change dramatically. In 1990, about 70 percent of Americans said same-sex relations among adults was “always wrong,” and barely more than 10 percent said it was “never wrong.” However, by 2016, less than 40 percent of people said it was always wrong and about 50 percent said it was not wrong at all. The rapid increase in support occurred across party lines (see figure below).

Module 7 Image 1

Importantly, however, there is variation by religion on these views. In the second figure below, you can see that five major religious groups (including no religion or unaffiliated) all became more accepting of same-sex marriage between 1990-2020 (though, there are some declines between 2017-2019). However, there are big differences between the religious unaffiliated, who are the most accepting of same-sex marriage, and evangelical Protestants, who are the least accepting. 

Module 7 Image 2

Same-sex marriage also is a contentious issue at the institutional level for religious groups in the United States. That is, beyond just the views of individual adherents (which are generally liberalizing, as discussed above), many religious bodies have debated what their official, institutional position on the issue should be. Should they perform same-sex marriages, or not? Would that be “biblical” for Christian groups? As you can imagine, there are a wide range of opinions on that question, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Lutheran Church, and the Episcopal Church have all experienced fractures and splits over issues of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. This week, you will read about some of the ways clergy think about these issues and also will watch a video on the Methodist church, which is at risk of fracturing over these issues. There is an increase overall in the acceptance of LGBTQ as full members and religious leaders in religious congregations in the U.S. (see below).

Module 7 Image 3

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