Wednesday, February 25, 2015

PRRI Releases American Values Atlas: Outsized Control Exerted by White Evangelicals to Block Expansion of Rights for LGBT Citizens

Today, the Public Religion Research Institute is releasing a new American Values Atlas.  As Cathy Lynn Grossman reports for Religion News Service, 

The new edition of The American Values Atlas allows users to "heat map" views on these highly partisan issues in all 50 states and 30 metropolitan areas. Users can click issue by issue and group by group to see where attitudes blow hot or cold.

And as Antonia Blumberg notes for Huffington Post, since this atlas incorporates demographic, religious, and political data based on surveys conducted throughout 2014, it allows those using it to detect significant shifts now underway in American religious life — shifts with immediate implications for American political life.

Frank Bruni deftly captures one such shift in a column in the New York Times today: as he notes, though white evangelical Protestants are a minority in the U.S. (at 18% of the population), they continue to drive national politics to a much greater extent than their numbers would predict. They constitute 36% of self-identified Republicans.

As he also points out, this has serious consequences for LGBT citizens seeking the right to civil marriage, since 

In terms of allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, 77 percent of Jews and at least 60 percent of all three Catholic subgroups — white Catholics, Hispanic Catholics and “other non-white Catholics” — said they favored it. So did more than 60 percent of white mainline Protestants. 
But white evangelical Protestants? 
Just 28 percent. 
According to the survey, there are just seven American states — Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky — where more than 50 percent of voters oppose gay marriage.

A minority of American voters — a specific religious minority — determines what happens in the national political landscape to a far greater degree than one might predict due to the size of that minority. It does so by acting as a brake on any movement one of the nation's two political parties might make towards recognizng that LGBT citizens should have rights equal to those of all other citizens. At the national level, candidates hoping to represent that political party must pass purity tests that appease this religious minority group, as they are vetted for office.

The power of this religious minority group has been significantly magnified, too, it should be noted, by one of the wealthiest religious lobbying constituencies in the nation, the U.S. Catholic bishops, who have chosen to make common cause with white evangelicals as both groups seek to block the rights of LGBT citizens and to use religion to denigrate these fellow human beings and force them back into the closet.

The religious minority group that exerts such control over the entire nation is localized in the part of the nation that once practiced slavery, and was willing to split the nation over the issue of slavery. As marriage equality is enacted in their part of the nation, or as the handwriting on the wall appears to suggest that it will eventually be enacted, some of its adherents are once again talking about secession. They're threatening to leave the union if the federal government forces them to grant equal rights to LGBT people. 

And just as they did during the debates over slavery and then during the debates about integration, they're quoting the bible to justify their political belligerence. It is, as Yogi Berra might say, déja vu all over again.

And it's not a pretty picture. Especially for those of us who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, and who happen to find ourselves living in the belly of this voracious religious beast.

The graphic is a screenshot of the results shown by the American Values Atlas when one asks for a regional breakdown of attitudes regarding same-sex marriage. As the map demonstrates, opposition to marriage equality for gay citizens remains strongest in the region (excluding Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware) that became the Confederate states opposing abolition of slavery in the 19th century, which is the region of the country in which white evangelicals have their greatest representation.

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