For example, 58 percent polled said they believed "the institution of marriage was created by God." Forty percent said it was created by man. They were then asked, "If God made his opinion known, do you feel he would or would not expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex marriage?" Twenty-nine percent he would and 58 percent said he would not.
"Those who support traditional marriage are more confident God is on their side," Lawrence said. "For those who don't believe in God (about 12 percent in the sample) this is a moot question. But for those who do believe in God and support same-sex marriage, there are still a good bunch of them who are not quite ready to say that God would back them up."
Love wouldn't agree with Lawrence's assessment, however, and thinks using "God" in the question affects the results. "In our country, God is viewed as the seat of judgment, whereas Jesus is viewed as the seat of compassion," she said. "I like to ask people what they think Jesus would do about this because they give a totally different answer than if you asked them what God would do."
For Love the real question is "Does God approve of me as a homosexual?"
"I think God does," Love said. "I don't find a preponderance in scripture that God's love and acceptance has anything to do with gender and sexuality. The preponderance has to do with how we treat each other as human beings as part of a community. It is unfortunate that we are so stuck on this issue."
Another issue Lawrence's poll looks at is homosexual behavior.
The poll asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of homosexual behavior?"
Twenty-eight percent approved, 53 percent disapproved and 20 percent had no opinion or refused to answer the question.
Love thinks people are conflicted about same-sex relationships due to either their own experiences or the fact that they know and care about someone who is gay. "But," she said, "when they think about the word 'homosexual' it is sort of an 'ick!' word and they think, 'I don't do those kind of things.'"
For Gallagher, the most interesting part of the behavior question was the large number of people who refused to answer it. "Twenty percent not answering this question is a sign that people are becoming really sensitive about expressing their opinion about homosexuality," Gallagher said.
Underneath the questions, Gallagher sees two core Christian values being pitted against each other: compassion versus chastity. "Right now in the public square is the idea that the core Christian conception of sexual ethics is the cause of immense human suffering," she said. "I think people are very conflicted about what to do about it. For some believers the marriage line is the final safety net — they want to express compassion and concern for gay people, and they then draw the line at marriage to put a defensive foundation around the idea of moral truth."
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Author's note (Oct. 17): Survey Methodology
Several readers have emailed me to ask about the methodology of Lawrence's poll. Lawrence provided this summary of his survey methodology and his polling credentials:
National Survey Methodology
Between July 6 and 13, 2011, Lawrence Research of Santa Ana, California, interviewed by telephone 1,000 randomly chosen American adults (18+). Opinionology/SSI conducted the interviewing in evening hours, except for Friday and Saturday evenings, and on Saturday morning to provide the best probabilities of reaching the broadest cross-section of the American public at home.
The sample was drawn proportionate to population density in each of the 50 states, and was stratified and controlled by geographic regions. Random-digit dialing was used so that adults with listed or unlisted telephones would have equal opportunities to be chosen to be interviewed, which is the central criterion of random-probability sampling.
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