Significant majorities of U.S. religious groups favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans, including well more than half of white evangelicals, according to a new report from Public Religion Research Institute.
The study was released March 23 as the U.S. Senate considers the Equality Act, a measure that would expand federal civil rights protections for gay, lesbian and transgender Americans. The House passed the bill in February.
How to achieve equal rights for Americans in the LGBTQ community is a matter of debate even among those who desire it. The Equality Act is just one bill moving through Congress this year. Others include the Fairness for All Act and the Do No Harm Act.
But it’s clear most Americans generally favor non-discrimination policies protecting LGBTQ persons, based on the findings of PRRI’s “2020 Values Atlas.” This data corresponds with a recent national poll done by the Human Rights Campaign.
Most Americans generally favor non-discrimination policies protecting LGBTQ persons.
“More than three in four Americans (76%) favor laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans from discrimination in jobs, housing and public accommodation,” the PRRI report states. “Less than one in five Americans (19%) oppose nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans. Around one-third of Americans strongly favor nondiscrimination protections (34%), compared to less than one in 10 who strongly oppose them (6%).”
That support has risen since 2019, when 72% of Americans supported anti-discrimination policies, PRRI said.
Support holds across demographic categories
The research also shows the trend for support rising across demographic categories: “Majorities of nearly every subgroup of Americans favor LGBT nondiscrimination protections, across race, age, religious and partisan lines.”
While the level of support varies among people of faith, PRRI found it never dropped into minority status. “Broad majorities of all major religious groups favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans. More than six in 10 members of every religious group support nondiscrimination laws.”
That support includes 82% of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 81% of Hispanic Catholics, 79% of Jewish Americans, 78% of Mormons, 77% of white Catholics and 73% of Black Protestants.
“Other Protestants of color (72%) and Hispanic Protestants (68%) are slightly less likely to favor nondiscrimination protections. White evangelical Protestants (62%) are least likely to favor nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBT Americans.”
Faith and race as predictors
But faith and race have been influential in boosting support for measures protecting the rights of LGBTQ people. PRRI said it found that Americans of color and white mainline Protestants account for most of the increases.
White mainline Protestants and Black Americans have grown 10 percentage points more likely to favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans from 2015 to 2020.
White mainline Protestants and Black Americans have grown 10 percentage points more likely to favor nondiscrimination protections.
The biggest jump occurred among other Protestants of color, whose support of LGBTQ rights grew from 59% in 2019 to 72% in 2020, the study found. Hispanic Catholic support increased from 75% to 81%.
“Religious divides are particularly notable among the Hispanic Protestant community in America,” PRRI said. “Those who identify as born-again or evangelical (62%) are considerably less likely than those who do not (81%) to support nondiscrimination protections. Hispanic religiously unaffiliated Americans (80%) also show very strong support.”
Race and ethnicity were found to influence attitudes about LGBTQ rights among those who identify as born-again or evangelical Christians, the report added. “Black evangelical Protestants (70%) and other evangelical Protestants of color (66%) are more likely than white evangelical Protestants (62%) and Hispanic evangelical Protestants (62%) to favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans.”
Age also a predictor
Age also was found to be a predictor of how people of faith view protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Among white evangelicals, 73% of those under age 50 support granting those rights, while only 56% of those over age 50 do. The split is 80% and 61% among other Protestants of color, 80% and 66% for Black Protestants, and 88% and 75% for white Protestants.
“The gap is around 11 percentage points or less among white Catholics (83% of those under age 50, 72% of those over age 50), Hispanic Protestants (71% of those under age 50, 62% of those over age 50), Hispanic Catholics (84% of those under age 50, 75% of those over age 50), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (86% of those under age 50, 76% of those over age 50).”
Views on marriage and denial of service
The issues of same-sex marriage and denying business services to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds also were examined in the project.
Opposition to denial of services declined from 61% in 2016 to 59% in 2019, but returned to 61% in 2020, PRRI reported. “One-third of Americans (33%) favor allowing a small business to refuse service to gay and lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs.”
“One-third of Americans favor allowing a small business to refuse service to gay and lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs.”
Broken down by religious affiliation, the results fit well-reported patterns. “White evangelical Protestants (46%) are the only religious group in which less than a majority opposes allowing small business to refuse service to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds,” PRRI found. “Majorities of white Catholics (60%) and white mainline Protestants (59%) oppose such refusals, as do 54% of Hispanic Protestants, 56% of Protestants who are multiracial or another race, and 70% of Black Protestants.”
At the same time, the research group reported a marked increase in support among Americans — including Republicans — for same-sex marriage.
Overall support for same-sex unions rose from 62% in 2018 and 2019 to 67% in 2020.
Longer term, the increase is even more remarkable. “Support for same-sex marriage has ballooned from just 36% in 2007 to two-thirds today, and opposition has dropped from 55% to 27%.”
Notable changes also were documented across political affiliations. “For the first time, in 2020, a slim majority of Republicans (51%) support allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, up from 47% support in 2019,” PRRI reported. “Independents are also at a new high point, with 72% support, up from the mid-60s in the past few years. More than three in four Democrats (76%) support same-sex marriage, up from 70% in 2019 but similar to 77% in 2018.
Most people of faith also support same-sex marriage, the research shows, including 81% of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 76% of non-Christian religious Americans, 75% of white Catholics and 72% of white mainline Protestants.
“Majorities of Black Protestants (57%), other Protestants of color (56%), and Hispanic Protestants (51%) support same-sex marriage, but support drops below half among white evangelical Protestants (43%).”
Those who strongly oppose LGBTQ rights
PRRI also identified key characteristics of Americans who are totally opposed to granting full rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.
“Those who are completely against pro-LGBTQ policies are older, more likely to be Republicans, feel more favorably toward former President Donald Trump, and are more likely to be white and white Christian than the American population and those who are in favor of these pro-LGBTQ policies.”
The survey found that white Christians comprise 60% of Americans who completely oppose LGBTQ-friendly policies. “This includes more than one-third who are white evangelical Protestant (35%), 14% who are white mainline Protestant, and 11% who are white Catholic.”