Marriage Equality Succeeds In States Where Religion Matters Less

Ever wonder why marriage equality tends to cluster in certain regions, like the Northeast? It’s not just that the South is more conservative. The main factor may be religious belief.

The fact is that marriage equality has been much more likely to succeed in parts of the country where people are less likely to belong to an organized religion or to attend services regularly.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has extensively studied faith in the U.S., mapping levels of belief on a state-by-state basis.

The least religious part of the country is New England. In Vermont, for example, only 36 percent of the population rate religion as very important in their lives, a full 20 percentage points lower than the rest of the country (and 46 percentage points below pious Mississippi). No surprise that all six New England states allow same-sex marriages.

New York has similar characteristics, as does Washington State. Things are a little more mixed in Maryland and Delaware, where the population more closely reflects the national average. However, evangelical Protestants are underrepresented in those states, where people who say that have no religious affiliation is slightly higher.

Of course, once your neighbor does something, you’re more likely to try to keep up with him. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee explicitly cited that reason as an economic imperative for his state to approve marriage equality. But if you aren’t religiously inclined, you will see marriage as a civil ceremony, not a matter of doctrine that can never be changed.

The good news for the long-term success of marriage equality is that young people are even less likely to be affiliated with a particular belief. In fact, one-third of people under the age of 30 say that they don’t belong to any particular denomination. That’s not to say that they don’t believe in God, but it also means that they aren’t taking their marching orders from the pulpit.

Believers may look at those figures and feel that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Of course, the other way to look at it is that mainstream religions are so out of touch with modern society that they no longer speak to the young. In either case, the trend is only accelerating, and the change will continue to benefit the LGBT cause.

Just don’t count on marriage equality in Mississippi any time soon.