Three-quarters of Americans support LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws

Broad majorities in nearly every religious group favor protections for LGBTQ Americans, according to new data from the Public Religion Research Institute.

People cheer for marchers walking down Fifth Avenue in the annual New York Gay Pride Parade on June 25, 2017.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

As the Senate prepares to vote on the Equality Act, a new poll released Tuesday indicates that an overwhelming majority of Americans across religious and political affiliations support anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

Seventy-six percent of adults favor laws that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations, according to the 2020 American Values Atlas of the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, which surveyed more than 10,000 adults in the U.S. from January 2020 to December.

Less than 1 in 5 (19 percent) opposed such protections.

Support was strongest among Democrats (85 percent) and independents (79 percent), but it also included a majority (62 percent) of Republicans.

Broad majorities in nearly every religious group favor protections for LGBTQ people, with the largest among white Catholics (77 percent), Mormons (78 percent), Jews (79 percent), Hispanic Catholics (81 percent), white mainline Protestants (82 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (82 percent).

White evangelical Protestants, the group least likely to favor nondiscrimination laws, endorsed them by nearly 2 to 1 (62 percent to 32 percent).

Regional differences proved relatively small: People who live in urban (77 percent) and suburban (77 percent) areas are slightly more supportive than those who live in rural areas (70 percent).

"The data is clear: the vast majority of Americans support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections no matter where they live, the party they belong to, or the church they belong to," PRRI research director Natalie Jackson said in a statement.

Since 2015, the largest increase in support has come among Black people, which grew from 65 percent to 75 percent, and white mainline Protestants, which rose from 73 percent to 82 percent, according to the data.

The survey also found that about three-fifths (61 percent) of respondents opposed allowing small businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers on religious grounds. From 2016 to 2019, opposition to religious refusal laws declined, from 61 percent to 56 percent. The new survey shows opposition returning to 2016 levels.

The "slim minority" of people (7 percent) who consistently hold unfavorable views toward 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," according to the report.

The margin of error for the survey’s total sample is plus or minus 0.5 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. The margin of error for the national issue subsample, or the results from questions about specific issues, is plus or minus 1.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

As senators consider their votes for the Equality Act, Jackson said, "they should pay attention to the fact that Americans — including Republicans — are very much on board with the principles of the legislation."

Introduced every session since 2015, the Equality Act would amend the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It first passed the House in 2019 by a 236-173 vote, but it failed to get a hearing in the GOP-dominated Senate.

The Equality Act passed the House again last month in a 224-206 vote largely along party lines. Only three Republicans — Reps. John Katko and Tom Reed of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania — voted for the bill.

Rep. David Cicilline D-R.I., who introduced the measure in the House, said he wasn't surprised by the latest figures from PRRI.

"Most Americans would be shocked to learn that LGBTQ equality isn't already the law of the land," Cicilline said in an email. "However, in too many states, members of the LGBTQ community can still legally be kicked out of their apartment, kicked off a jury or denied service in a bank, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The civil rights laws of this country need to be expanded to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination and the American people are behind us."

Republicans in the Senate have promised to fight the measure, which received a hearing Wednesday in the Judiciary Committee.

Threatening a filibuster, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News' Sean Hannity last week, "I would talk until I fell over to make sure that the Equality Act doesn't become law, destroying the difference between a man and woman in our law."

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