Same-Sex Marriage and Other News

Same-sex marriage heads BRIN’s list of six news stories today, with a fresh poll published about religious attitudes to it, just as the necessary legislation for England and Wales was clearing its final Parliamentary hurdles.

Same-sex marriage

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is firmly on course to enter the English and Welsh statute books, following completion of its final stages in the House of Lords (Third Reading) on Monday (15 July 2013) and House of Commons (‘Ping-Pong’, consideration of House of Lords amendments) yesterday evening (16 July). Royal Assent is expected later this week, with the first same-sex marriages taking place in summer 2014.

On the same day as the House of Lords gave the Bill an unopposed Third Reading, YouGov published its latest online poll on same-sex marriage, undertaken on behalf of Centreground Political Communications on 2-3 July 2013 among 1,923 Britons aged 18 and over. It revealed that 54% of adults support changing the law to allow same-sex couples to marry, with 36% opposed, and 10% undecided. This is the eighth occasion on which YouGov has posed the question since December 2012, just prior to the Bill’s introduction into the House of Commons. Each of these polls has produced a majority for change, ranging from 52% to 55%.

Right to the last, however, people of faith continue to resist same-sex marriage, albeit by a narrow margin. In the Centreground survey 44% of those regarding themselves as belonging to a particular religion supported same-sex marriage, 48% were against, with 9% uncertain. By contrast, 69% of the 42% of respondents who had no religion backed same-sex marriage, and just 20% were opposed. It will be interesting to see whether, in the face of defeat of the majority faith line on same-sex marriage in the courts of Parliament and public opinion, religious communities will now rethink their positions. The YouGov table is at:

BRIN’s post of 4 February 2013, reviewing the religious aspects of same-sex marriage, as reflected in opinion polls, on the eve of the House of Commons Second Reading debate on the Bill, is still online at:

Interviewed by YouGov, a plurality of the British public has thought the Church of England wrong to oppose same-sex marriage, as shown below:

















Don’t know








Alternative Queen’s Speech

Last month (June 2013) a group of backbench Conservative MPs tabled a raft of 40 Bills intended as an Alternative Queen’s Speech, comprising measures to ‘recapture the common ground, where most views are’. Pollster Lord Ashcroft decided to put these proposals to the test and commissioned Populus to gauge public reaction to them. Online interviews were conducted with 2,036 adult Britons on 28-30 June 2013, the sample being split into two, one half (sub-sample A) being asked about each Bill topic introduced as ‘ideas that some people have suggested ought to become law’, the other half (sub-sample B) informed that they were suggestions ‘various Conservative MPs have said they would like to see become law’. Results were published by Ashcroft on 16 July at:

One of the proposals was for a Face Coverings (Prohibition) Bill, which would make it illegal to wear face coverings in public, including the burka, thereby implicitly targeting Muslims. This was supported by 59% of sub-sample A and 61% of sub-sample B, a similar level to other polls on the subject (especially a clutch of them in 2010), and opposed by 22% and 20% respectively. Support peaked at 73% of over-65s in A (79% in B), 70% of Conservatives (75%), and 90% of UKIP voters (76%). Opposition was especially to be found among the 18-24s (42% in A) and Liberal Democrats (35% in A).

Another measure in the Alternative Queen’s Speech was the Charitable Status for Religious Institutions Bill, which would provide for a presumption that such institutions meet the public benefit test for charitable status (following a recent high-profile case involving the Charity Commission and Exclusive Brethren), although the actual question put by Populus was subtly different, ‘presuming that churches deserve charity status’. A plurality (39%) in both sub-samples was undecided about this matter, with 37% in agreement with the purposes of the Bill in A and 36% in B, and 24% and 25% respectively against. Most in favour in sub-sample A were over-65s (42%), Conservatives and Liberal Democrats (43% each), and Scots and UKIP voters (44% each). Conservative support stood at 45% in sub-sample B and UKIP at 56%. BRIN is not aware of a directly comparable question having been asked before.

Church of England social action survey

The flow of reports seeking to document the contribution of faith communities to social capital shows no sign of drying up. The latest was published on 10 July 2013 by think-tank ResPublica in association with Resurgo Social Ventures, and on behalf of the Church of England: James Noyes and Phillip Blond, Holistic Mission: Social Action and the Church of England. It is available to download from:

The report is underpinned by quantitative data obtained by Research by Design (RBD), questionnaires being completed by 589 adults who attended Sunday worship at 17 Anglican churches (16 in England, 1 in Scotland) on 24 February 2013. The overwhelming majority of respondents were aged 45 and over (88%) and white (96%), broadly in line with the Church of England’s diversity audit of 2007. There is a separate report by Dave Ruston of RBD on its survey, including the full text of the questionnaire, at:

Levels of social action were found to be higher among churchgoers than the general public (data for the latter being taken from the Citizenship Survey, 2009-10), albeit the difference may be explained in part by the higher age profile of worshippers. Thus, 79% of church congregations had engaged in formal social action (organized through voluntary groups) during the previous 12 months compared with 40% of the public; informal social action was recorded by 90% and 54% respectively. The commonest manifestations of formal social action were promoting the church (66%) and volunteering for Christian charities (60%). The main examples of informal social action were keeping in touch with someone who has difficulty getting out (75%), giving advice (61%), and looking after a property or a pet for someone who is away (55%). Although most churchgoers said their faith motivated their social activism, most also agreed that they were comfortable helping folk who have different values or religious beliefs to their own. Notwithstanding their social roles, churchgoers were divided about David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, 37% feeling part of it, 30% not, and 33% failing to understand it.

Faith in Research conference

The Church of England is making available online the presentations given at its latest annual Faith in Research conference, held on 20 June 2013. Among those so far available, BRIN readers will especially value the Church of England Strategy and Development Unit’s ‘Church Growth Research Programme: An Update on Progress at the 12-Month Stage’; and Linda Woodhead’s keynote ‘The Church of England: A Changing Church in a Changing Culture’, which explores the conundrum of ‘a national church out of step with its nation’. Woodhead draws upon the findings of two online YouGov polls concerning moral issues which she commissioned, in January and June 2013. BRIN has already documented the first of these polls through its coverage of this year’s Westminster Faith Debates; we will feature the second survey in detail as soon as the data tables become available. See also Ruth Gledhill’s article in The Times for 5 July 2013, which quotes Woodhead at length. The Faith in Research presentations can be downloaded at:

Sixty years on

In his latest monthly column for the Church of England Newspaper (‘Sixty Years’, 14 July 2013, p. 15), Peter Brierley tries to summarize (from actual data and ‘reasonable estimates’) the religious changes which have occurred in the UK since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. He calculates that: a) church membership has fallen from 19% of the population in 1953 to 8% today; b) average Sunday congregations have declined from 14% of the population in 1973 to 6% today; c) the number of churches has fluctuated within the range of 50,000-55,000 during the Queen’s reign; and d) ministers have decreased from 42,000 in 1953 to 37,000 today. Two charts show members, churches, and ministers for each tenth year between 1953 and 2013.

British Institute of Public Opinion

Sample surveys are a vital source of data on religious topics, and it was Henry Durant’s British Institute of Public Opinion (BIPO) – later Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited – which brought them to the fore. Although Durant did not conduct a full-scale survey on religion until 1957, and only asked about religious affiliation intermittently (for the first time in 1943), the BRIN source database reveals how indebted we are to BIPO/Gallup for shining a light on popular religious beliefs, attitudes, and practices in Britain. Relatively little has been written about BIPO’s history and methods, so – even though it does not focus on religion (Durant himself is said to have believed that ‘religion was no longer an important factor shaping public opinion’) – BRIN readers will probably still be interested in Mark Roodhouse, ‘“Fish-and-Chip Intelligence”: Henry Durant and the British Institute of Public Opinion, 1936-63’, Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 24, No. 2, 2013, pp. 224-48. The author’s conclusions are fairly damning: ‘The sample survey was not a precision tool for “taking the pulse of democracy”. It contained irredeemable flaws that homogenized the private opinions of a skewed cross-section of British society, while commercial pressures forced Durant to make trade-offs between cost and quality, and clients’ needs and best survey practice.’ This judgment seems rather harsh and overstated, for many of the BIPO problems which Roodhouse describes (including dependence on quota sampling and part-time interviewers) were characteristic of the early days of opinion polling and market research both in Britain and the United States.


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