When it comes to religion, the nation's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered adults have a unique profile that is less religious than the general population, and as a group, they feel religion is unfriendly toward them, a new survey found.
About half of the LGBT adults surveyed (48 percent) say they have no religious affiliation, compared with 20 percent of the general public, according to the Pew Research Center, and those who are religious generally attend worship services less often and attach less importance to their faith than do other religiously affiliated adults.
The online survey of 1,200 self-identified LGBT adults who were recruited to take part by the polling firm GfK Group of Palo Alto, Calif., is one of the largest and most detailed of the LGBT population, Pew said. The survey covered a range of topics from the politics and economic status of the respondents to their experiences and feelings about relationships, religion and revealing their sexual orientation. Religion appeared to be a particularly troubling area for most LGBT adults.
"I attend a church that does allow gays and lesbians to be ordained. However, it would be an issue for some people in the church and I’m not ready to open that can of worms,” said a 34-year-old lesbian evangelical who participated in the survey and was quoted in the Pew report.
While a solid majority (66 percent) of religiously affiliated LGBT adults said they have no conflict between their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation or gender identity, the same group overwhelmingly rated six major religious groups as unfriendly.
The Muslim religion and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were viewed as the most unfriendly toward LGBT adults, followed by the Catholic Church, Evangelical churches, the Jewish faith and non-evangelical Protestant churches.
But researchers also found that religiously unaffiliated LGBT adults were more likely to say religion is unfriendly toward them than those who are affiliated. And, believers who are LGBT were less likely to say their church is unfriendly toward them.
Among LGBT Catholics, two-thirds (66 percent) say the Catholic Church is unfriendly toward them, while 84 percent of religiously unaffiliated LGBT adults saw the Catholic Church as unfriendly.
Both the Roman Catholic Church and the LDS Church have made efforts to welcome LGBT adults into their respective faiths despite doctrinal disagreements over same-sex relations and behavior.
More than 10 years ago, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued "Always our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers." Directing a message to parents to love their children as God does came across as positive and less preachy and negative, said Rev. Thomas Reese, a Catholic scholar and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
"I think that was the high point in the bishops' speaking positively about their teaching, which makes the distinction between (sexual) orientation and the choice" of one's actions, Reese said.
The Catholic Church teaches that sexual orientation is not sinful, but that homosexual behavior is a sin because sexual intercourse can only take place within marriage and must be open to the possibility of producing children.
The LDS Church has also reached out, creating a website, mormonsandgays.org, that features discussions among top church leaders and members on same-sex attraction. The church has also supported local ordinances banning employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
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.”