Religion, Intergroup Contact, and Public Opinion on Gay Rights in the United States
Reviewed by Chris Meyer
April 25, 2015
In this paper, University of the South undergraduate James Szewczyk takes a unique approach to a commonplace idea. His work argues that devoutly religious people are less likely to accept evolving societal attitudes toward gay marriage, an argument that is relatively well-established in existing literature. However, Szewczyk takes this finding further, arguing that it has significant implications for the framing of gay rights activism, as well as the methods that gay rights activists can use to influence those with deeply-held religious beliefs.
Specifically, Szewczyk makes two broad arguments beyond the claim that religious people are more likely to reject gay marriage than non-religious people. First, he points to existing studies on contact theory, which show that respondents are more accepting of gay marriage — and indeed gay rights in general — when they are subject to long-term interactions with gay men and women. If this is the case with non-religious people, perhaps we can extrapolate the tolerating effects of contact theory to strongly religious people? Although his research is preliminary, Szewczyk’s statistical models provide tentative support for this hypothesis, and certainly warrant future investigation.
Szewczyk also argues that if the gay rights movement wants to make greater inroads with religious populations, it must alter its framing of certain issues. Religious communities, his research finds, are more receptive to arguments when they are framed in the context of equality rather than morality. As such, the gay rights movement will find more traction among potential religious allies if they focus on issues like job discrimination against homosexual applicants. Indeed, only nineteen states and the District of Columbia have statutes protecting homosexuals against private and public sector employment discrimination.
Ultimately, Szewczyk should be applauded for going beyond a surface-level analysis of religion and gay rights. A paper that begins as an analysis of public opinion evolves into an analysis of the tools that will help alter that opinion in the long-run. Further research into these tools will be essential in the pursuit of equality for the homosexual community.
See the full paper here!