Americans in most religious categories want laws to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, with support among black Protestants virtually as high as among white evangelical Protestants, according to a survey issued Thursday. The 4,000 respondents chose among three options: legal status only for heterosexual marriage (55% of the total sample in favor), legalized civil unions (18%), or legalized same-sex marriage (27%). The wording did not refer specifically to the Federal Marriage Amendment, a measure banning same-sex marriage that is backed by President Bush and many Republicans and religious conservatives. The only groups giving majority backing to same-sex marriage were Jews (55%), white Catholics identified as "modernist" in belief (51%), followers of faiths other than Judaism or Christianity (50%), and the growing category of those with no religious affiliation (50%).
There was plurality support for heterosexual-only marriage among white "mainline" Protestants (47%) and white Roman Catholics (48%)--despite strong stands against same-sex marriage by the Vatican and U.S. bishops. But support reached 52% among Latino Catholics, 71% among Latino Protestants, 72% among black Protestants, and 75% among white evangelical Protestants. John C. Green of the University of Akron, who directed the survey for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said Republicans need to be cautious on the issue, however. The reason: A 57% majority of Americans said yes on a more general question of whether gays and lesbians should "have the same rights as other Americans."