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Survey: Gay and lesbian population has unique religious profile

Published: Saturday, June 15 2013 8:55 p.m. MDT

Mormon teachings hold that while homosexual behavior is a sin, those attracted to the same-sex can be in full fellowship with the church if they do not engage in homosexual behavior.

“With love and understanding, the church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. All are welcome in our congregations,” said LDS Church spokesman Dale Jones.

But the politically heated debate over same-sex marriage has likely eclipsed efforts to welcome LGBT adults, at least for the Catholic Church, Reese said.

"The Catholic bishops have made a decision to make gay marriage a big political fight. That has caused a lot of negative feelings among LGBT folks," Reese said. "I am not surprised by the results of the (Pew) survey at all."

The survey found 74 percent of LGBT adults strongly favor same-sex marriage and 52 percent said they would like to get married some day. Also, those LGBT adults who were legally married were more likely to be religiously affiliated (54 percent) than those who were not (43 percent).

Affiliation and conflict

The high numbers of unaffiliated LGBT adults is no surprise to Stephen Merino, a sociology professor at the University of Texas-Pan American who has studied the attitudes of religious organizations toward the LGBT population.

"The unaffiliated are that way for a reason," he said. "They see religion as hostile" to them.

Pew found that the LGBT population that identifies as either atheist, agnostic or religiously unaffiliated is double that of the general unaffiliated population. And that holds true across all age groups.

Two-thirds of those LGBT who are 18-29 years old identified as unaffiliated, compared with 31 percent in the general population. In the 50-years-and-older bracket, 39 percent of LGBT are unaffiliated compared with 13 percent among the general public.

More than half of lesbians (53 percent) and gay men (52 percent) were religiously affiliated, and the proportion of affiliated LGBT adults is highest in the South (57 percent) and West (53 percent).

The LGBT population does reflect the general population when it comes to religious breakdown — the largest group (42 percent) of LGBT church-goers are Christian, while the majority of Americans also identify as Christians. Most religiously affiliated LGBT adults are Protestant, and most of those belong to mainline Protestant faiths.

According to the survey, religiously affiliated LGBT adults felt most welcome at non-evangelical Protestant churches.

The perceptions of the unfriendliness of religion tracks the attitude of religious Americans toward homosexuality. Pew stated that 48 percent of those who attend a worship service at least once a week have a negative view of homosexuality.

But church isn't the only place where LGBT adults find that faith conflicts with their sexual orientation, according to those who shared their experiences in the survey.

“The only thing holding me back from being open about my sexuality is the very strong religious Christian views that most of my family has," said a 26-year-old gay man. "I am confident that the religious members of my family will judge me based on their conservative and radical views of their religion and will end their relationships with me, and I’m not prepared to lose such a large part of my family over it.”

mbrown@deseretnews.com

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