Polls show that religiosity is a factor in the opposition to gay marriage. According to a July 2006 survey by the Pew Forum, Americans oppose gay marriage 56% to 35%, but those with a high level of religious commitment oppose it by a substantially wider margin of 75% to 18%. Opposition among white evangelicals is even higher, at 79%. A majority of Catholics (53%) and black Protestants (74%), as well as a plurality of white mainline Protestants (47%), also oppose gay marriage. Only among seculars does a majority (63%) express support. However, sizable majorities of white mainline Protestants (66%), Catholics (63%) and seculars (78%) favor allowing homosexual couples to enter into civil unions granting many of the legal rights of marriage. As with gay marriage, white evangelicals (66%), black Protestants (62%) and frequent church attenders (60%) stand out for their opposition to civil unions. The general public narrowly supports civil unions (54% to 42%).The opposition to gay marriage by white evangelicals (79% oppose) and black Protestants (74% oppose) is not all that different. Churchgoing blacks do not see gay marriage as a justice issue - denied or delayed.
The only majority support is amongst seculars and even there the support is only 63%. It's not clear whether seculars do not oppose gay marriage because they are capable of compassion and following the golden rule better than the rest of us, or whether they are simply agnostic on the issue.
Let's look further at that July 2006 survey:
* The young are less opposed. Indeed, only 38% of those aged 18-29 oppose gay marriage.
* Among those who attend church at least weekly 75% oppose.
* "About half of those who favor gay marriage (51%) support pushing hard for legalization. But a substantial minority of gay marriage supporters (41%) oppose pushing too hard on the issue...."
* "Views of the nature of homosexuality are closely related to views of gay marriage and civil unions, with those who view homosexuality as innate and unchangeable expressing more support for these policies compared with those who see homosexuality as changeable. Among those who view homosexuality as innate...."
* "Opinions about the nature of homosexuality have changed slightly since 2003. Today, somewhat more Americans believe that homosexuality is innate (from 30% in 2003 to 36% now) and that homosexuality cannot be changed (from 42% to 49%). "
I went and looked at the 2003 survey covering gay marriage. The report on the 2003 survey noted a trend of growing tolerance towards gays had been found in other surveys. For example:
Since 1973, the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, has been tracking whether Americans believe sexual relations between adults of the same sex are always wrong, almost always wrong, sometimes wrong, or not wrong at all. The most recent wave of the GSS in 2002 found a slight majority (53%) saying that homosexual relations are always wrong, down from 74% as recently as 1987. The proportion saying homosexual relations are not wrong at all has nearly tripled, from 12% to 32%, over the same time span.What about the trend from 2003 to 2006 in the Pew survey? In the 2003 survey,
By nearly two-to-one, more Americans oppose (59%) than favor (32%) legalizing gay marriage. This reflects something of a backlash from polls conducted earlier in the year, before the Supreme Court's ruling in June  that struck down state laws against sodomy. In a July survey shortly after that decision, the public opposed gay marriage by a smaller margin (53%-38%).In the report of the 2006 survey:
By a 56%-35% margin, a majority of Americans continues to oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. These figures are largely unchanged over the past several years.It appears that opposition to gay marriage, which had been trending down has now leveled off. Perhaps there is a core group of opponents who are less likely to change their views. Perhaps strong opponents who have seen support erode have become motivated to generate support for their views.
The complete report of the 2003 survey (pdf) allows comparison of the opposition to gay marriage by denomination between the 2003 and 2006 surveys.
*In 2003 46% of white mainline Protestants had a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable view of gay marriage. This compares with the "plurality of white mainline Protestants (47%)" in opposition in 2006.
*In 2003 69% of white evangelical Protestants had an unfavorable opinion. In 2006 66% opposed.
As in the general population, you see little movement within denominational groupings (mainline, evangelical) over this time period.
So what does this mean for the conversation/conversion argument in The Episcopal Church? Perhaps it means that we're simply talking until we are blue in the face, no growth is occuring and, indeed, we are perhaps becoming increasingly infantile. At the level of the denomination the lines are drawn. Adding to the unpleasantness the divisions cut between dioceses, across dioceses, and within parishes in dioceses.
In the Episcopal Church there are believed to be 15 to 20% who strongly oppose gay marriage, an equal-sized group who strongly favor, and a group of 60 to 70% who do not see it as an issue worth fighting over. We are, as the Presiding Bishop says, in an "anxious time." Urgent voices on both ends clamor to be heard. In the long run it doesn't pay to reward noisy children by listening to them - they only clamor more.
What is the way forward? I don't know.