June 20, 2013

For religious LGBT adults, more commitment sometimes brings more conflict

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults are generally less religious than U.S. society as a whole, a recent Pew Research Center survey found. About half (51%) declare any religious affiliation at all, versus close to eight-in-ten U.S. adults; about a fifth (17%) are both religiously affiliated and say religion is very important in their lives, compared with just over half (54%) of the general public.

Nearly four-in-ten (38%) of those “more religiously committed” LGBT adults are evangelical Protestants, while a quarter (24%) are mainline Protestants and one-in-five (20%) are Catholic.

Some LGBT adults say they feel a conflict between their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation or gender identity. Among LGBT evangelical Protestants, for instance, 47% say they feel such a conflict. That may be because evangelical churches by and large disapprove of homosexuality: The National Association of Evangelicals, for example, calls it “a deviation from the Creator’s plan.”

“Coming from a strong evangelical Christian upbringing, and still applying that to my life, it’s been difficult,” said one 28-year-old lesbian who took part in our survey. “A lot of people (some or most of my family included) don’t approve or want to have anything to do with it, and choose to ignore my partner.”

By contrast, only a fifth of mainline-Protestant LGBT adults feel there’s a conflict between their beliefs and their sexuality. Many (but not all) mainline denominations are at least tolerant of homosexuality, if not openly welcoming: The United Church of Christ, for instance, has supported same-sex marriage rights since 2005.

Nonetheless, some respondents identified tensions even in avowedly “gay-friendly” churches. One 49-year-old lesbian told us she was a youth leader in her church, which permits lesbians and gay men to be ordained. But, she said, she hasn’t come out to anyone at her church (though she suspects both pastors have guessed) because “it would be an issue for some people in the church and I’m not ready to open that can of worms.”

Topics: Religion and Society, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Cary Funk

    is director of science and society research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Rhoda4 years ago

    Roman Catholics welcome all with same sex attractions. They are “always our children”.
    Read the official statement. RC’s believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.

    BTW if you do a search for sexual abuse among clergy you will find that all denominations are offenders.

    1. Dan Cooke4 years ago

      If you tell LGBT people that marriage is between one man and one woman then you are NOT gay friendly.

      Unless they have serious self-loathing issues why would anyone want to affiliate with a church that tells them they are living an immoral life.

      1. Paul4 years ago

        I consider myself gay friendly even though I do see marriage as a holy sacrament between a man and a woman. I do believe that everyone, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, is equal before the law and that all citizens should be treated equally in legal matters. That being said, one cannot easily separate marriage from religion; marriage has been intertwined with religious sects for thousands of years. Therefore, I am not in favor of any government forcing religions, many of which have existed longer than the government in power, to reject their beliefs due to a popular movement. Although, I, myself, am in favor of what many countries in the Western world already do, and that is having two ceremonies: the first being the legal civil union with the government, and the latter being a religious ceremony, if they so desire, according the party’s affiliation. I believe this would be equal and fair to all citizens.