The Corner

The Cafeteria Appears to Be Open, After All


. . . but that may be bad news for the Left.

A new Pew poll shows that support for gay marriage has been rising fast, especially among Catholics. This trend has been remarked upon even before the release of this particular poll, and it may — paradoxically enough — end up helping defeat President Obama in November. First, the poll results, as reported by Catholic World News:

In 2004 a solid majority of Americans (60%) were opposed to same-sex marriage, and the number strongly opposed (36%) easily outweighed those who were strongly in favor (11%). By 2012 the number of those opposing same-sex marriage (43%) was slightly less than the number in favor (47%), with those strongly opposed only matching those strongly in favor (22%).

. . .

Catholic respondents were slightly less likely than other Americans to oppose same-sex marriage. In 2004, 55% of Catholics were opposed, and 28% strongly. By 2012 those figures had dropped to 42% and 17%. Protestants were more likely than Catholics to oppose same-sex marriage. 

The tendency of U.S. Catholics to dissent from official church teachings is very well known, and President Obama may have been trapped by it into one of the key strategic political blunders of his presidency. When he and his HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, were discussing the now-notorious contraceptive mandate, they must have been looking at polls just like this one, and concluding: Hey, Catholics don’t obey their bishops anyway. We can force Catholic organizations to pay for contraception, and the Catholic pewsitters will take our side if the bishops squawk about it! Win-win!

To say that it hasn’t quite worked out that way would be a massive understatement. Catholics, liberal and conservative alike, were galvanized in opposition to the mandate, which was an unnecessary and unjustified act of government overreach, an attempt to change an accepted and long-settled accommodation of religious conscience. The passionate opposition even transcended denominational bounds; as conservative commentator Glenn Beck memorably declared, “We are all Catholics now.”

It appears that Obama and his team misunderstood American Catholics, and indeed the public more broadly. I think it comes down to a misunderstanding of how Americans live out their “cafeteria Catholicism” in practice: Sure, they reserve the right to disobey Church teachings — but they acknowledge the right of the bishops to define the teachings that they are disobeying. We might put it this way: They do not take kindly to being bullied by bishops, but — and here’s the shock to the Obamaites — they also don’t much like it when bishops are bullied by someone else. Nobody likes a bully, and Obama showed himself to be one in this controversy.

I think Obama’s power grab will be rejected upon close judicial scrutiny, just as his earlier assault on religious freedom was unanimously overruled by the Supreme Court. Contraceptives will not be an issue in November; but the character and the priorities of this president will be. I suspect he will rue the day he started this controversy.

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