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Support for LGBT Nondiscrimination, Marriage Equality Hits All-Time High

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 3/23/2021 Susan Milligan
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 14: Attendees hold rainbow flags during a Flag Day 'Raise the Rainbow' march and rally, June 14, 2017 in New York City. The event honored LGBT rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker, who died in March 2017. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) © (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 14: Attendees hold rainbow flags during a Flag Day 'Raise the Rainbow' march and rally, June 14, 2017 in New York City. The event honored LGBT rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker, who died in March 2017. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Support for anti-discrimination laws and marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is at an all-time high, according to a report released early Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey of more than 10,000 Americans reveals unusual unity in a populace deeply divided along partisan lines and grappling with race and gender issues.

More than three-fourths of Americans overall, or 76%, and strong majorities of Americans in every subgroup – no matter what gender, religion, race, age or geographic location support anti-discrimination laws. Further, for the first time since PRRI began surveying the matter, a majority of Republicans endorse same-sex marriage, according to the group, which studies the intersection of culture, politics and religion.

"It really is impressive that we're seeing not just (overall) support but high support among groups where you wouldn't normally expect it," says Natalie Jackson, PRRI's director of research.

For example, 51% of Republicans now back same-sex marriage, up dramatically from 31% of GOPers who felt that way a decade ago in PRRI's surveys. Support for LGBT nondiscrimination laws are highest among liberals, Democrats and younger people, but the increase in support has come mainly from Americans of color and white mainline Protestants, the report found.

Three-fourths of white Catholics and 71% of Hispanic Catholics back same-sex marriage, the report found, although the church formally opposes such unions. White evangelical Protestants were the only religious group without majority support for same-sex marriage; 43% of that group back gay and lesbian marriage.

Support for nondiscrimination laws for LGBT people was highest in the mid-Atlantic and Pacific states, where 79% of people back such rules. But even in the area with the lowest support for such protection – the Southeast states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi – 69% of those surveyed support such laws, PRRI found.

More than 6 out of 10 Americans, or 61%, oppose allowing small business to refuse products or services to gay or lesbian people if doing so violates the vendors' religious beliefs, while 33% believe businesses should be able to deny services on religious grounds.


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And, in perhaps the most dramatic finding, the report revealed that just a small fraction of the American public – 7% – is completely against pro-LGBT policies, including antidiscrimination laws and same-sex marriage.

The study comes as the Senate wrestles with the Equality Act, legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The policy would apply to employment, housing, credit, education, public space and services, federally funded programs and jury service. The act would also expand existing law defining public spaces to include retail stores, services such as banks and legal services, and transportation services.

Backing for LGBT nondiscrimination has previously gotten bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. But Republican opposition in the Senate threatens to halt the Equality Act just when backers can be assured that the current president, Joe Biden, would sign the bill.

Democrats hold 50 seats in the Senate and would likely need 10 GOP votes to stop a potential filibuster. So far, no Republican has committed to voting for the bill. Sen Susan Collins, Maine Republican, previously co-sponsored the Equality Act but now says she wants changes in it and may offer her own legislation.

Some Republican lawmakers say they worry the law will infringe on their constituents' religious freedom and beliefs.

"The language is rather significantly broad and would almost inevitably put this law in a position of occupying a more significant place with respect to religious institutions," Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, said during a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill.

Jackson notes that overwhelming support for LGBT protections doesn't necessarily translate into votes on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers might get more from taking one side in the culture wars than they would get by voting for the bill.

"People will say, 'I'm in favor of same-sex marriage and nondiscrimination.' But when it comes to voting for their congressman, that's not something they're looking for," Jackson adds.

State law is widely variant in providing legal protections for LGBT people. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights group, estimates that 165 million Americans in 27 states face legal discrimination in housing, employment and other arenas because their home states do not have nondiscrimination laws covering them.

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