WASHINGTON (CNS) — Two-thirds of people responding to a Pew Research Center survey — including a majority of Catholics — said it is appropriate that employers be required to provide health insurance coverage for artificial birth control even if employers object on religious grounds to its use.
The survey found Americans almost evenly split on two other issues that cross the religious liberty-civil rights/nondiscrimination divide: whether business owners with religious objections should be able to refuse services for same-sex weddings, and whether transgender people should use the restroom of the gender by which they currently identify or the gender into which they were born.
Specifically, 49 percent of respondents said business should be required to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples, while 48 percent said business owners should be able to refuse such services.
Similarly, 51 percent of people felt that transgender people should be able to use the public restroom of the gender with which they currently identify, while 46 percent said they should use the restroom of their gender at birth.
“What we found was that on one issue, in the debate over the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, the public expresses a kind of consensus,” said Greg Smith, associate director of research at Pew and co-author of the report.
But the responses on the two other issues “illustrates in a key way where we are in the way of polarization in American society today,” Smith told Catholic News Service.
The survey also asked respondents if they could understand views opposed to those they held even if they did not agree with them. About one in five participants said they did, meaning 80 percent did not, Smith said.
“What you’re seeing, and one of the things most striking to me, is that most people don’t appear to be very conflicted when it comes down to pitting religious liberty versus nondiscrimination,” he explained. “Most people don’t even sympathize with people who express religious liberty concerns, and those on the conservative side don’t sympathize with the nondiscrimination point of view.”
The Pew analysis involved a survey of 4,538 adults conducted Aug. 16 to Sept. 12. The overall findings have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
The research results, announced Sept. 28, show that the views of very active Catholics are generally evenly split on the issue. Among Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week, 50 percent find it appropriate to require employers to cover contraceptives in any health care coverage despite their religious views, while 44 percent attending Mass at the same rate disagree.
Among Catholics who attend Mass less than weekly, 72 percent favor requiring coverage, 27 percent do not favor it.
The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is prohibited. Its stance is outlined in “Humanae Vitae,” Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical.
The federal government’s requirement that most employers, including religious employers, provide their workers with contraceptive coverage is at the heart of a legal challenge by the Little Sisters of the Poor and several other Catholic entities. They say the mandate violates their religious freedom because they are morally opposed to such coverage.
Meanwhile, 51 percent of weekly Massgoers said businesses should be able to decline to provide wedding services such as photography, catering or floral arrangements to same-sex couples if guided by religious values and 41 percent felt businesses should be required to provide such services.
Among other Catholic respondents, 40 percent said business owners should have the right of refusal on religious grounds to provide wedding services to same-sex couples and 59 percent said businesses should be required to provide such services.
Regarding the use of public restrooms by transgender people, Catholics were more widely divided than the general public. By a 60 percent to 38 percent margin, Catholics at Mass at least every week said transgender people should use the restroom of the gender into which they were born rather than the gender with which they currently identify.
A majority of Catholics who attend Mass less frequently, 51 percent to 45 percent, responded that transgender people should use the public restroom of their current gender identity.
Pew also asked survey participants a series of questions focused on the morality of using artificial birth control, abortion and homosexual behavior.
Among Catholics, few — 8 percent — said they find it morally wrong to use contraceptives. The split among weekly Massgoers and those who attend Mass less frequently was 13 percent to 6 percent.
The poll showed that 41 percent of Catholics found artificial birth control use morally acceptable while 48 percent did not consider it a moral issue.
“We have seen over the years that most Catholics do not have moral reservations to using contraception,” Smith said.
When it comes to abortion, 51 percent of all Catholic respondents said they considered it morally wrong, 16 percent found it morally acceptable and 31 percent said it was not a moral issue.
The split among regular Massgoers and less frequent Mass attendees was pronounced. The survey found that 81 percent Catholics attending Mass weekly found abortion morally wrong, 4 percent said it was morally acceptable and 12 percent said it was not a moral issue. Responses from Catholics who attend Mass less frequently were 38 percent, 21 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
The church condemns abortion as a grave evil.
The survey also sought opinions on homosexual behavior. Overall among Catholics, 32 percent found it morally wrong, 16 percent morally acceptable and 48 percent did not consider it a moral issue.
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual attraction itself is not sinful, though homosexual actions are sinful. People with a homosexual inclination “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Overall, 817 Catholics participated in the survey. Of the total, 308 said they attended Mass at least weekly and 509 said they attended Mass less often. The margin of error among weekly Massgoers is plus or minus 9.2 percentage points. The margin of error among other Catholic respondents is plus or minus 7.1 percentage points.
The survey also broke down responses by religious groups such as white evangelicals, white mainline Protestants and black Protestants as well as whether individuals were Democratic or Republican leaning.