Catholic influence wanes amid gay marriage fight

STEVE PEOPLES
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Rhode Island State Rep. Frank Ferri poses at the Statehouse in Providence, R.I., Wednesday, May 29, 2013. A faithful member of his Catholic church choir for decades, the openly gay state representative led the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in what may be the most Catholic state in the nation’s most Catholic region. And, in May, Rhode Island became the sixth and final New England state to allow gay couples to marry when its Democrat-dominated legislature, led by an openly gay House speaker, reversed course after years of the Catholic Church successfully lobbying lawmakers to resist legalization. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The political influence of the Catholic Church is waning in New England.

Rhode Island lawmakers, many of them Catholic Democrats, legalized same-sex marriage in early May, making Rhode Island the sixth and final New England state to allow gay couples to marry.

The vote followed years of aggressive lobbying from church leaders.

Experts say that gay marriage offers the latest example of a widening divide between the church hierarchy and its members that threatens to diminish the Catholic influence in American politics. Recent polls show that most American Catholics believe the church is out of touch with their views.

From Maine to California, church leaders have used the power of the pulpit and substantial financial resources to fight gay marriage.