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Mormons stand out from other faith groups for their views on LGBT rights

Conferencegoers rise and sing with the choir during the Saturday morning session of the 188th Annual General Conference of the LDS Church at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on March 31, 2018.
FILE - Conferencegoers rise and sing with the choir during the Saturday morning session of the 188th Annual General Conference of the LDS Church at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on March 31, 2018.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints show low support for same-sex marriage but high support for LGBT nondiscrimination protections — a disparity that's unique among America's faith groups, according to a new Public Religion Research Institute report.

"Only 40 percent of Mormons favor allowing same-sex couples to marry, yet nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) support laws that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment," researchers noted. "Among no other major religious group is the gap on these two issues larger."

Along with white evangelical Protestants, Mormons also stood out in the survey for their support for religiously based service refusals, which are at the center of a high-profile Supreme Court case this term. Justices are weighing whether forcing a religiously conservative Christian baker to design, bake and decorate a wedding cake for a same-sex couple violates the baker's free speech rights.

Public Religion Research Institute
Public Religion Research Institute
Aaron Thorup, Public Religion Research Institute

Fifty-three percent of Mormons and white evangelicals favor allowing small-business owners in their state to refuse service to gay or lesbian people on religious grounds. No more than 34 percent of any other faith group included in the analysis shares this opinion, according to the new report.

Responses from the Mormon community illustrate how attitudes on homosexuality have evolved in recent years, said Matthew Bowman, an associate professor of history at Henderson State University in Arkansas. Even as church leaders assert that marriage is reserved for unions between one man and one woman, they urge acceptance of members of the LGBT community.

LDS Church leaders "are holding the line on marriage, but they've proven willing to compromise" when it comes to other LGBT rights, he said.

Public Religion Research Institute's analysis is based on approximately 40,000 interviews that took place during 2017 in all 50 states. The margin of error for the full sample is 1.2 percentage points.

Overall, the report shows a growing consensus on issues affecting the LGBT community, said Dan Cox, the institute's research director, in a statement.

"At a time when Americans are more divided than ever, the sea change in support for LGBT rights that now crosses lines of race, ethnicity, religion and geography means that LGBT rights are becoming one of the few areas of public agreement," he said.

A majority of white evangelical Protestants and Mormons still oppose same-sex marriage, but resistance has dropped dramatically over the past five years. In 2013, 68 percent of Mormons opposed allowing LGBT couples to marry, compared to 53 percent in 2017, researchers noted.

However, broad increases in support for same-sex marriage and LGBT nondiscrimination protections have not closed the persistent generation gap present in responses to these issues. Americans older than 65 are much less likely than Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 to support same-sex marriage, whether or not members of the two generations share the same political party, race or faith.

For example, 59 percent of young Republicans favor allowing LGBT couples to marry, compared to 28 percent of Republicans older than 65. Fifty-two percent of Mormons between ages 18 and 29 support same-sex marriage, compared to 32 percent of their older counterparts.

Young and old Americans are also divided on LGBT nondiscrimination protections, which are on the books in 21 states. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 favor such laws, compared to 61 percent of seniors.

At least half of each faith group surveyed favors LGBT nondiscrimination laws, with Unitarians and Jews showing the most support.

Although the two groups offer similar views on other LGBT-related issues, Mormons are 15 percentage points more likely than white evangelical Protestants to support nondiscrimination laws, according to the report.

Many members of the LDS Church live in or have family ties to Utah, which, in 2015, passed the "Utah Compromise," which protects LGBT residents from employment and housing discrimination. Eighty percent of Utah residents favor LGBT nondiscrimination laws, the highest rate reported by Public Religion Research Institute.