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Longitudinal Effects of Religious Media on Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage

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Abstract and Figures

Religion and anti-gay prejudice in the United States are closely connected. Yet we still know little about the specific mechanisms through which religious subcultures may shape adherents’ attitudes toward gays and lesbians. This study considers religious media consumption as a unique mechanism through which religious Americans are socialized and embedded within an anti-gay religious subculture. Drawing on panel data from the nationally-representative Portraits of American Life Study, and focusing on opposition to same-sex marriage as a measure of anti-gay prejudice, analyses show that more frequent consumption of religious radio and TV (but not internet) is associated with higher levels of opposition to same-sex marriage over time. These effects remain significant with different model specifications as well as controls for previous attitudes toward same-sex marriage, general media use, sociodemographic and religious characteristics, and intimate contact with gays and lesbians. We propose that consuming religious media over time may influence Americans’ views toward LGBT issues directly through explicit messages about homosexuality and indirectly by embedding Americans within a broader religious subculture (largely, conservative Protestantism) that opposes homosexuality.
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ORIGINAL PAPER
Longitudinal Effects of Religious Media on Opposition
to Same-Sex Marriage
Samuel L. Perry
1
Kara J. Snawder
1
Published online: 5 May 2016
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract Religion and anti-gay prejudice in the United States are closely con-
nected. Yet we still know little about the specific mechanisms through which reli-
gious subcultures may shape adherents’ attitudes toward gays and lesbians. This
study considers religious media consumption as a unique mechanism through which
religious Americans are socialized and embedded within an anti-gay religious
subculture. Drawing on panel data from the nationally-representative Portraits of
American Life Study, and focusing on opposition to same-sex marriage as a mea-
sure of anti-gay prejudice, analyses show that more frequent consumption of reli-
gious radio and TV (but not internet) is associated with higher levels of opposition
to same-sex marriage over time. These effects remain significant with different
model specifications as well as controls for previous attitudes toward same-sex
marriage, general media use, sociodemographic and religious characteristics, and
intimate contact with gays and lesbians. We propose that consuming religious media
over time may influence Americans’ views toward LGBT issues directly through
explicit messages about homosexuality and indirectly by embedding Americans
within a broader religious subculture (largely, conservative Protestantism) that
opposes homosexuality.
Keywords Attitudes Religion Media Gay Lesbian Homophobia Same-sex
marriage
&Samuel L. Perry
samperry@ou.edu
1
Department of Sociology, University of Oklahoma, 780 Van Vleet Oval, Kaufman Hall,
Norman, OK 73019, USA
123
Sexuality & Culture (2016) 20:785–804
DOI 10.1007/s12119-016-9357-y
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
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THERE IS much in popular culture for theologically and politically conservative Christians to object to. The primary objection is to sex, violence, and profanity in the entertainment media.1 Media content objected to on these grounds can range from fullblown pornography to comedy programs like Monty Python's Flying Circus. In November 2006 and February 2007 network primetime television, 1 percent of programs were self-rated by their networks as TV-G, 55 percent as TV-PG, and 44 percent as TV-14. A content analysis of programs during the same period found that 80 percent contained at least some profanity, 61 percent at least some violence, 43 percent at least some sex, and 52 percent at least some suggestive dialogue. About half the time, the network did not flag the program with the relevant v-chip content descriptor (Parents Television Council 2007). 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These complaints are similar to, and sometimes consciously modeled on, those made by activists representing ethnic groups. For instance, the Reverend Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, argued that Americans are a very religious people but that this is not reflected on television, and, moreover, to the extent that religion is shown, it is denigrated (1997). In a similar vein, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights focuses not on content that is inconsistent with Catholic values, but on media stories it perceives to be insulting to Catholics. A popular example among conservative Christian of the belittling media came from a Washington Post article that described fundamentalists as "largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command" (Michael Weisskopf, "Energized by Pulpit or Passion, the Public is Calling: 'Gospel Grapevine' Displays Strength in Controversy over Military Gay Ban," February 1, 1993, A1). Years later, this quote is still invoked as evidence of media bias against conservative Christians. Another complaint is that popular culture advocates ideologies that are contrary to conservative Christian values. One frequently cited early example concerned two episodes of the television show Maude in which the title character had an abortion. These episodes drew objections, because they deliberately dramatized the Population Institute's position that abortion is an appropriate way to handle an unwanted pregnancy (Montgomery 1989). More recently, conservative Christians have opposed a variety of programs with sympathetic gay and lesbian characters. The television show Will and Grace was a common object of opposition. Although part of the objection appears to have been to the stream of double entendres in the show, a more important base among conservative Christians was the fact that two of the four main characters were gay, the broader milieu was largely gay, and many episodes explicitly conveyed the idea that homosexuality was innocuous and opposition to it a form of bigotry. This sort of programming seemed a particular insult to conservatives Christians because in this case popular culture was not merely salacious, but, at least in their eyes, also engaged in partisan activism. Compounding these grievances has been a general lack of trust based on the notion that the people who work in the media don't share "middle American" values. This perception is partly based on anecdotes about the lifestyles and public statements of celebrities, but it is also supported by social science evidence concerning the attitudes of people working at high levels in the entertainment industry (see, for example, Lichter, Lichter, and Rothman 1983). Furthermore, conservatives Christians are sometimes offended by the business practices of entertainment companies; one of the reasons the Southern Baptist Convention decided to boycott the Disney Corporation in 1997 was that the company, like most of its competitors, had extended benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees. 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