What Anglicans (and others) think about homosexuality and disestablishment











Earlier today, the Church of England responded to the Government’s proposals to introduce same-sex marriage. For further information, follow these links to coverage by BBC News, the Guardian, and the Telegraph; furthermore, the Church of England’s full response is available here.

In view of the discussion generated by the response, it is worth examining what Anglicans themselves think about gay relationships. My colleague Ben Clements at the University of Leicester has recently looked at data from the British Social Attitudes surveys and the European Values Surveys to see how attitudes to homosexual relationship have changed over the past three decades or so.

We recently published his full report here as part of our Figures section, which provides an array of statistics on attitudes to gay relationships, towards gay people, to adoption and other issues. To summarise:

  • In 1983, 70 per cent of Anglicans considered sexual relationships between people of the same sex were always or almost always wrong. By 2010, this had nearly halved to 37 per cent.
  • In 1983, 75 per cent of Catholics considered same sex relationships were always or almost always wrong; by 2010, this had fallen to 41 per cent.
  • In 1983, 80 per cent of Other Christians considered such rlationships wrong; by 2010, this had fallen to 47 per cent.
  • In 1983, 58 per cent of those with no religion considered such relationships wrong; by 2010, this had fallen to 21 per cent.

A specific question on the right to marriage was asked on the British Social Attitudes survey in 2007:

‘How much do you agree or disagree that … gay or lesbian couples should have the right to marry one another if they want to?’

Again, Ben broke the responses down by religious affiliation. There is some variation by religious affiliation, although note that age or ‘social generation’ effects may also be a key driver here: those of no religion are generally considerably younger than Anglicans. More complex analysis would be required to assess how far religious affiliation determines attitudes compared with other socio-demographic variables such as sex, education, socioeconomic status, and so forth.


Discussion today has also focused on the position of the Church of England as the established church. The Church of England argues that the proposals mean that the institution of marriage would be redefined in law to mean something the Church would ‘struggle to recognise’ as marriage:

‘the institution of marriage would have been redefined generally for the purposes of English law. At the very least that raises new and as yet unexplored questions about the implications for the current duties which English law imposes on clergy of the Established Church’ [Annex, paragraphs 21, 22].

Relatedly, Ben has also recently looked at attitudes to disestablishment of the Church of England. He analysed data from the British Election Study (BES) AV Referendum Study, undertaken in spring 2011, which included a number of questions regarding reform of British institutions. The full report is also available here in the Figures section.

The question on disestablishment, which was asked on the post-campaign survey wave, was:

 ‘The Church of England should keep its status as the official established church in England.’

The response options were: ‘strongly agree’, ‘agree’, ‘neither agree nor disagree’, ‘disagree’ and ‘strongly disagree’.

While the BES does not ask respondents their religious affiliation, we can break down responses by other demographics. To simplify, the ‘strongly agree’ and ‘agree’ response categories were collapsed. To summarise:

  • Overall, 54 per cent of respondents agreed the Church of England should remain the established church, 22 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, 16 per cent disagreed (i.e. favoured disestablishment), and 8 per cent didn’t know.
  • Women are more in favour of the status quo than men ( 57 per cent of women agreed with the proposal compared with 50 per cent of men; 12 per cent disagreed compared with 19 per cent of men).
  • 54 per cent of Whites and 55 per cent of Black respondents are in favour of the status quo compared with 40 per cent of Asian respondents. However, the percentage disagreeing was similar for White and Asian respondents (16 and 15 per cent respectively) while that for Black respondents was 8 per cent – notably, 20 per cent of Asian respondents replied that they didn’t know.
  • There is some variation by age category. 63 per cent of those aged 65 and over favour the status quo compared with 41 per cent of those aged 18 to 24; 13 per cent of those aged 65 and over disagreed with the proposition (presumably, therefore, favouring disestablishment) compared with 19 per cent of those aged 18 to 24.
  • English respondents were more likely to support the Church of England continuing as the established church: 56 per cent agreed compared with 51 per cent in Wales, where the Anglican ‘Church in Wales’ was disestablished in 1920, and 31 per cent in Scotland (where the Church of Scotland is recognised as the national church but is not established). 15 per cent of English respondents disagreed, compared with 17 per cent of Welsh respondents, and 24 per cent of Scottish respondents.
  • Conservative Party supporters are more likely to favour continuing establishment: 69 per cent compared with 49 per cent of Labour supporters, 46 per cent of Lib Dems, and 45 per cent favouring no particular party. 8 per cent of Conservative Party supporters disagreed, thereby favouring disestablishment, compared with 19 per cent of Labour supporters, 25 per cent of Lib Dems, and 18 per cent of those favouring no particular party.
  • 74 per cent of Daily Mail readers favour the Church of England remaining established, compared with 65 per cent of Telegraph readers, 61 per cent of Sun readers, 52 per cent of Times readers, 36 per cent of Independent readers, and 28 per cent of Guardian readers.  7 per cent of Daily Mail readers favour disestablishment, compared with 13 percent of Telegraph readers, 7 per cent of Sun readers, 25 per cent of Times readers, 34 per cent of Independent readers, and 45 per cent of Guardian readers.

Again, the full reports and breakdowns are available in the Figures section via the drop-down menu, where the contact details for Ben are also available (although note that he is currently on paternity leave – congratulations Ben!).

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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