Race, religion, Maryland and gay marriage

Time for a quick flashback into the tmatt GetReligion folder of guilt. That's the cyber-folder of mainstream news stories that I really want to dissect, but then other big stories come along that demand immediate attention and then, well, you know, the folder gets thicker and thicker. Sigh. This particular Washington Post story caught my attention for several reasons -- some positive and a few negative.

The lede is a classic, "Well, DUH!" moment that slipped into print.

Half of Maryland residents now favor the legalization of same-sex marriage, but support varies significantly along the sensitive lines of race, religion and age, a Washington Post poll has found.

Like I said, "Well, DUH." Raise your hand if you are not surprised that race and religion factor into beliefs on this hot-button issue.

Actually, I has surprised me that the liberal Catholic-secular coalition that runs my state has struggled as much as it has to get this matter through the legislature. When you consider how liberal a state Maryland is, that mere 50 percent support number is downright shocking. There must be a complex story in there, somewhere.

That brings us to the heart of this report, which is presented with great simplicity and clarity.

The new poll found a sharp divide among Maryland Democrats based on race. Among whites, 71 percent support same-sex marriage, while 24 percent do not. Among blacks, 41 percent are supportive, while 53 percent are opposed. Maryland has the largest percentage of African Americans of any state outside of the Deep South.

In addition to race, religion also factors into this fight in a major way. That's where this Post report is severely lacking in basic facts. Let's look at a few of them.

Several hundred people, including some ministers and lawmakers, convened ... in a rally outside the State House in Annapolis to make clear they still oppose legislation that narrowly passed the Senate last year but fell short in the House of Delegates.

In advance of a Senate hearing on the bill, gay-rights supporters are planning a news conference ... with clergy members to show the measure has religious support in the 90-day legislative session.

What is missing?

Well, why are these two paragraphs so vague? Both lack any detail when it comes to which religious groups are backing gay rights and which ones are opposed. This information is especially important -- of course -- on the African-American side of the debate. Readers need to know who is lined up on both sides. Without those basic facts, this part of the story is next to meaningless.

My prediction is that the state's larger religious bodies are against the measure and its smaller, declining flocks are lined up with the Democratic leadership. Why do I say that?

The poll found that nearly three-quarters of those opposed to gay nuptials say their views stem primarily from their religious beliefs -- a factor that makes lobbying on the issue more challenging.

By contrast, only 5 percent of same-sex marriage supporters say their views are largely shaped by religious beliefs. ... The poll also found that those who attend religious services weekly are nearly three times as likely to oppose same-sex marriage as those who do not attend at all.

Read that again. That 5 percent number is a testament to several changing factors in American life, especially the rising number of people who are openly secular and/or "spiritual, not religious." It also shows just how small the world of liberal Protestantism has become, in terms of bodies in pews -- even in Maryland, a highly progressive state.

One more point: The next time a GetReligion commentator argues that subjects such as abortion and gay-marriage are simply political controversies, as opposed to being topics that remain linked to religious doctrine and practice in the lives of millions, just think about this Post story.

Then you can join me in saying: Well, DUH.

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