The hullabaloo earlier this year regarding Pope Francis’ directive to allow priests to provide blessings to same-sex couples once again placed the issue of sexual minorities and religion in headlines.

In the heated discourse around hot-button sexuality issues, it can sometimes feel like religions that hold a more traditional, heteronormative view on sexuality are a rarity. (“Heteronormative” is one label for institutions and practices that uphold heterosexual marriage as a uniquely special norm worthy of preservation and promotion.)

While it is true that there are diverse religious options available today, most major faith groups surveyed continue to adhere to a traditional view of marriage. In a recent paper I published a few months ago in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, I looked at patterns in the relationships of sexual minorities to religion, finding that most of the faith groups sampled had traditional views of marriage.

Afterwards I looked at the positions of the 20 largest denominations in the U.S. per the 2020 Religion Census, with summary stances of various faiths categorized according to public statements and other materials, along with other available analyses from the Human Rights Campaign comparing religious positions.

Denominations are in order by size:

Most faiths affirm traditional marriage. Of the 17 major faith groupings in America whose position could be simply summarized, 12 of them — representing just under 106.5 million believers in America — uphold traditional views of marriage doctrinally. In practice, this means prioritization is given in teachings and policies of the faith to the complementary union of man and woman in marriage.

For instance, Julius Scruggs, then-president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, wrote in 2015 that the organization “affirms that marriage is a sacred biblical covenant between a man and a woman.” The Southern Baptist Convention website likewise emphasizes the “biblical definition of marriage” as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”

Consistent with these teachings, these faith groups generally disallow faith leaders from performing marriages for same-sex couples — or hosting them on church grounds. While the Roman Catholic church now allows priests to bless same-sex couples in some circumstances, the same Vatican document describing this allowance also states that “rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage — which is the ‘exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children’ — and what contradicts it are inadmissible.”

The Vatican document states, “It is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning. The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.”

Mapping other faith communities. Of the remaining faith groups, three others representing nearly 12.5 million people were “ambiguously” heteronormative — meaning they have been formally conflicted on this question — enough so to officially or indirectly extend autonomy to individual ministers. But these positions are sometimes fluid.

After earlier flexibility on same-sex marriage, for instance, the United Methodist Church voted to return to doctrinal consistency through the denomination — currently stating, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.“

According to this analysis, only two major faith groups, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Episcopal Church — representing just over 3 million people — are distinctly nonheteronormative. That means performing same-sex marriages in church buildings and by their ministers and voting to allow the ordination of individuals in LGBTQ relationships.

A 2022 statement signed by Episcopal leaders, for instance, “affirm(s) the holiness of their love wherever it is found in committed relationships.” And the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in the past decade, according to the HRC, has moved to “(advocate) for equal rights in church and society for all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Observations across the spectrum of faith. A similar analysis could be done of the 47 faith groups in the U.S. with 200,000 or more adherents in the U.S. — which would refine this assessment further. A larger analysis might also consider this same question internationally. But among the most sizeable faith groups in America reviewed here, a strong majority of faiths remain aligned with traditional views of marriage.

Many of the positions among faith groups have been developed over time with a lot of effort involving tension and heartache on both sides (for example, large numbers of Episcopalian and United Methodist churches are splitting off from their denominations).

And it goes without saying that adherents within all these same faith communities are more diverse, sometimes in surprising ways, than the summary doctrine and theology representing them. That is perhaps especially true of heteronormative and ambiguously heteronormative churches, given the wide conflicts over sexuality that have spanned the last decade.

For example, in a survey on current and former Latter-day Saints I recently helped conduct for the BH Roberts Foundation, we found that many LGBTQ Latter-day Saints sampled in the survey tended to agree with the church’s traditional teachings about marriage.

The take-away here is that churches that are completely nonheteronormative, and that solemnize same-sex weddings, are relatively few. Even those few that are officially nonheteronormative typically still allow for ministers to abstain from conducting same-sex ceremonies based on their personal beliefs.

On the flip side, some religious denominations employ a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” arrangement tacitly allowing some ministers to solemnize same-sex weddings. Also, in some denominations that have more centralized leadership, local authorities are not permitted to decide core policies about marriage for their own congregation. But this is not the case for other faiths that maintain less control over different congregations. Also, many congregations are independent and are not connected to national denominations.

Still, it’s helpful to appreciate the scope of official positions of the major religions and denominations in the U.S.

Stephen Cranney is a data scientist with a joint Ph.D. in demography/sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.