Presbyterians are divided on whether same-sex marriage should be allowed. According to results from the February 2012 Presbyterian Panel survey more members and ruling elders are opposed to same-sex marriage than in favor, while more teaching elders are in favor rather than opposed.  

Around one-half of members (51 percent) and ruling elders (48 percent) oppose same-sex marriage, while more than one in three are in favor (34 percent; 38 percent); the rest are not sure.

Among teaching elders, half of pastors (49 percent) and six in ten specialized ministers (61 percent) support same-sex marriage, while 41 percent and 28 percent, respectively, are opposed. 

There has been a significant increase in Presbyterian support for same-sex marriage since 2005, when only 13 percent of members, 22 percent of ruling elders, 35 percent of pastors, and 51 percent of specialized ministers were in favor of allowing same-sex couples to wed. 

These changes parallel those occurring more broadly in American society. Support for same-sex marriage among the U.S. population has increased from 37 percent to 50 percent over the same period, according to the Gallup Poll.

“Many Presbyterians seem to be ‘evolving’ along with President Obama,” said Jack Marcum, coordinator of Research Services for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Last week, the President indicated that he now supports same-sex marriage, while previously he had only endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples.

On a related issue, that of allowing teaching elders to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, Presbyterians are also divided. About one-third of members (32 percent) and ruling elders (36 percent), 44 percent of pastors, and 58 percent of teaching elders favor allowing teaching elders to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies in locations where same-sex marriage is legal, according to another recent Presbyterian Panel survey.Most other respondents are opposed to giving such permission to teaching elders (49 percent, 50 percent, 44 percent, and 32 percent, respectively), though at least one in ten in every group are not sure (19 percent; 14 percent; 11 percent; 10 percent).

“Opinions on allowing ministers to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies largely mirror those on same-sex marriage itself,” said Perry Chang, Presbyterian Panel administrator. “While pastors are fairly evenly divided, other teaching elders show more support than opposition, while the opposite is true among people in the pews.”

Meeting in Minneapolis two years ago, the PC(USA) General Assembly issued a divided report on same-sex marriage, and the issue is likely to resurface at the Assembly this July in Pittsburgh.

Every three years the PC(USA) Research Services office assembles representative samples of Presbyterian church members, ruling elders, and teaching elders to respond to questions on different topics quarterly. Known as the Presbyterian Panel, these randomly chosen respondents form a vital means for church leaders to learn about the beliefs and experiences of rank-and-file Presbyterians.

For more information about Panel surveys and other Research Services studies and services, visit the Research Services website or contact Research Services at (800) 728-7228, ext. 5071, or by email.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comprises more than 2 million members in more than 10,000 congregations, answering Christ’s call to mission and ministry throughout the United States and the world.