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Among Catholics, increasing support for same-sex marriage

According to a new national Quinnipiac Poll released Friday, the number of American Catholics backing same-sex marriage has increased over the last few months.

According to a new national Quinnipiac Poll released Friday, the number of American Catholics backing same-sex marriage has increased over the last few months. The poll's results were announced just days before the College of Cardinals will meet in Rome to begin the conclave, or the secret election of a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

After surveying 497 adult Catholics and asking 1,944 registered voters nationwide, the poll found 54% of Catholic voters supporting the right for same-sex couples to marry, a jump from last December when 49% of Catholic supported it.

Nationwide, the number of Americans supporting and opposing same-sex marriage is a smaller margin, with 47% supporting it and 43% opposing it.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute noted that there has been a substantial increase in support over the last few years. A July 2008 survey found 55% of Catholic voters supporting same-sex marriage while only 36% supported it. “Catholic voters are leading American voters toward support for same-sex marriage,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Last November, Rev. Richard T. Lawrence of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Baltimore, Md., defended same-sex marriage to his clergy, urging voters to vote in favor of marriage equality in Maryland on Election Day. Reverend Lawrence told members of his church in a passionate homily, "It seems to me, therefore, that one might easily judge that even if we do not believe that gay marriage ever could or should be allowed in the church, we could live with a provision that allows civil marriage of gay and lesbian couples. Personally, however, I would go farther than that… we could come to recognize the total, exclusive, permanent, interpersonal commitment of gay and lesbian couples as a part of the sacrament of matrimony.”

As Catholic Cardinals gather at the Vatican to determine priorities for the Catholic Church, the Quinnipiac survey indicates that a small majority of American Catholics say their church is moving in the right direction--apparently without the church's leadership. Of adult Catholics surveyed in the Quinnipiac poll, 52% said the Church is moving in the right direction and 52% of Catholics agreed that church leaders are out of touch with the views of all American Catholics today; 55% of Catholics said the next Pope should move the Church in a new direction as well.

Additionally, the poll found 62% of Catholics support the idea of allowing priests to marry. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, told the BBC that Catholic priests should be allowed to get married and have children. "The celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry--Jesus didn't say that," O'Brien said. "There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church--in some branches of the Catholic church--priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again."

64% of Catholic voters also said that the next Pope should relax the church ban on contraception, including 68% of Catholic women.