ALMOST half (48 per cent) of self-identified Anglicans in England believe that same-sex marriage is “right”, a new YouGov poll suggests. This is an increase from 38 per cent in 2013.
Commissioned by the Ozanne Foundation, the latest poll, carried out last month, looked at responses from 1171 people who described themselves as “C of E”, “Anglican”, or “Episcopal”. Critics have highlighted that it does not inquire into the religious practice of its respondents. About a fifth of the total YouGov sample of 5169 identified as Anglican, while Church House statistics suggest that the Church of England’s worshipping community comprises about two per cent of the population.
Andrew Hawkins, who chairs ComRes, another polling agency, wrote on Twitter that it was “incorrect to describe this as a sample of Anglicans in England in any meaningful sense other than as a cultural identifier”.
About one third (34 per cent) of the 1171 said that same-sex marriage was “wrong”, while 18 per cent selected “Don’t know”. Women were more likely to say “right” (53 per cent), and approval declined with age: 77 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 said that it was “right”, falling to 71 per cent of those aged 25 to 49; 52 per cent of those aged 50 to 64; and 30 per cent of those aged 65 and above.
YouGov cautions that any percentages calculated on bases of fewer than 50 respondents “do not represent a wide enough cross-section of the target population to be statistically reliable”: this applies to the 18-to-24 age group, which generated just 35 responses. The 2014 congregational survey, Every One Counts, suggested that more than 40 per cent of the average C of E congregation was aged 66 and above.
In total, 60 per cent of the YouGov sample of the general population (5169 people) said that same-sex marriage was “right”, up from 46 per cent in 2013.
Earlier YouGov polling for the Westminster Faith Debates in 2013 — before the legalisation of same-sex marriage — examined respondents’ beliefs and practices in depth.
It looked at responses from 1519 Anglicans in Britain, and found that 38 per cent believed that same-sex marriage was “right”, and that 44 per cent agreed that same-sex couples should be allowed to get married. This latter result fell to 25 per cent of those who attended church once a week and 33 per cent of those who attended at least once a year. It fell further among those who “believe definitely there is a God” (38 per cent), and among those who reported relying on God, religious teachings, and religious leaders when seeking guidance on making decisions (32 per cent; 34 per cent; 27 per cent). Almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of Anglicans who definitely believed in God and took their authority from religious authorities were opposed to same-sex marriage.
A 2014 YouGov poll of C of E clergy, also commissioned for the Westminster Faith Debates, found that 39 per cent thought that same-sex marriage was “right”; 51 per cent selected “wrong”; and ten per cent “don’t know”. In this survey, respondents aged 45 to 64 were more likely than younger counterparts to approve (43 per cent selected “right”). A majority (71 per cent) said that the Church should “lay out general principles, but leave people to decide for themselves” when it came to “issues concerning personal life”, including same-sex marriage. Cathedral clergy were the most likely to select “right” (63 per cent), and bishops the least likely (28 per cent).
On Sunday, the director of the Ozanne Foundation, Jayne Ozanne, a prominent Evangelical LGBT activist, said that the poll “shows the urgent need for the Church of England hierarchy to recognise and respect the clear views of a significant proportion of its members, which are steadily increasing as time goes by.”
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, who chairs the Foundation, said: “These results provide a challenge to us in leadership within the Church of England to ensure that we understand the views of the people we serve. Attitudes are, indeed, changing quickly, and we must be open to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through them if we are to be an effective witness of God’s love to the nation.”
The Rector of Steeple Aston, in Oxford diocese, the Revd Marcus Green, a member of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) working groups, welcomed the new poll.
“Over seventy per cent of people under 50 — whether in the population at large or those few in the poll who still think of themselves as belonging to the Church of England — regard same-sex marriage as being good and right,” he said.
“We don’t decide doctrine with a popularity contest. But we do face reality. I think this is where research like this really makes its mark.
“In a world where our job is to show the love and grace of Jesus to people who increasingly know less and less about our traditions of faith, even if there was little biblical reason to support change, these figures make us ask if sticking to a traditional doctrine of marriage is the hill the Church is supposed to die on.
“But given that many of us— within LLF and in the wider Church— find that the Bible has plenty of cause to support the generosity of spirit and simple human kindness demonstrated by this research, I’d argue that these figures rather say the Church is supposed to live in love and faith. And in hope — for a Church and a world where everyone is recognised as being equally human, gloriously diverse, and all are able to celebrate and cherish the love that God gives us.”
Another LLF member, the Revd Dr Jason Roach, the assistant curate of Christ Church, Mayfair, said: “Given that same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2014, it is perhaps unsurprising that polls since then show that people’s views are adapting to the change in the legal situation. It’s not clear whether those identified as Anglicans are simply expressing their acceptance of the ‘law of the land’ or voicing that the teaching of the Church should change.
“Throughout history, the teaching of the church has always been at odds with cultural perceptions of sex and relationships and indeed many other things. . . As far as Anglians go, the number who either don’t know what to think or think same-sex marriage is wrong is 52 per cent. The picture seems to be one of confusion rather than clarity. This is part of what the Living in Love and Faith project hopes to help with.
“I'm excited that Bishops of the Church of England have taken the lead in developing this work to help the whole church to learn together more about God's vision for human flourishing.”