As lawmakers across the country grapple with tension between gay rights and religious freedom, public support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination rules is high and on the rise, according to a new report from Public Religion Research Institute.

The Institute’s American Values Atlas shows that the share of Americans who support laws guarding against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing, hiring and public accommodations has increased by 8 percentage points since 2015, from 71% to 79%.

Large majorities of nearly all major religious, political and racial groups now favor legal protections for members of the LGBTQ community, researchers noted. In many cases, support within faith groups is higher than within the country as a whole.

“Eight in 10 or more Jewish Americans (85%), Hindus (85%), Latter-day Saints (84%), Hispanic Catholics (83%), white mainline Protestants (82%), white Catholics (80%) and members of other religions (80%) support nondiscrimination laws to protect LGBTQ people,” the new report says.

In terms of geographical regions, states in the West show the highest levels of support for gay rights laws. Utah, California, Washington and Nevada all make the top 20 if you rank the 50 states according to residents’ support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, according to additional data provided to the Deseret News.

The new report is based on online interviews conducted over the course of 2021 with 22,612 U.S. adults. The margin of error for the national survey is plus or minus 0.8 percentage points.

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The Institute’s findings help explain why many Americans, including President Joe Biden, are frustrated with Congress’ failure to expand LGBTQ rights protections.

In his State of the Union address earlier this month, Biden called on lawmakers to pass the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics protected by civil rights law.

“As I said last year, especially to our young transgender Americans, I will always have your back ... so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential,” the president said.

Passing the Equality Act, which has twice made it through the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, would indeed address Americans’ interest in protecting members of the LGBTQ community. But it would also raise religious freedom concerns, which is one reason why most Republican lawmakers are opposed to passing the measure in its current form.

“We don’t oppose equality but we do oppose legislation where you take the rights of one and oppose the rights of others,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., during a Senate hearing on the Equality Act last year. He and others worry that the bill would punish people of faith who oppose same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues since it would limit application of federal religious freedom protections.

Public Religion Research Institute’s survey gets at the tension between LGBTQ rights and religious freedom with a question on the rights of business owners who, for religious reasons, don’t want to serve some gay and lesbian customers. Although most members of the public remain on the side of the LGBTQ community, the results are more mixed for this question than for the one on LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections that includes no mention of faith.

“Unlike on the other issues in this report, opposition to religiously based refusals to serve gay and lesbian people has shown negative and positive fluctuations since 2015,” researchers noted.

The 2021 American Values Atlas shows that two-thirds (66%) of U.S. adults oppose allowing small business owners to refuse to provide products to gay or lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs, while 33% support allowing them to refuse service, the Institute reports.

Support for religious business owners and other people of faith has led some policymakers to champion LGBTQ rights bills that maintain or even expand existing religious accommodations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is among the religious institutions that have expressed support for so-called “Fairness for All” bills, which aim to balance gay and religious rights.

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“This bipartisan bill preserves the rights of individuals and communities of faith while protecting the rights of members of the LGBTQ community,” said Latter-day Saint leaders last month of a Fairness for All bill proposed in Arizona.

A 2015 Utah law that bars anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing and hiring served as one of the inspirations for the Arizona proposal. The “Utah Compromise” created new civil rights protections for members of the LGBTQ community without limiting conservative religious believers’ ability to live according to their faith.

Public Religion Research Institute has previously pointed to the success of the Utah Compromise as a potential reason why so many Utahns support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections despite opposing same-sex marriage

According to data provided to the Deseret News, Utahns (56%) are less likely than the average Americans (68%) to “strongly favor” or “favor” allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. However, residents of the Beehive State (83%) are more likely than other Americans (79%) to support LGBTQ nondiscrimination rules.

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