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How white Christians stand out in new research on LGBTQ rights

A new survey from Public Religion Research Institute shows that many opponents of gay rights identify as white Christians

FILE - Utah Faith Fair and Rally for Love, Equality, Family, and Acceptance outside of the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015.
FILE - Utah Faith Fair and Rally for Love, Equality, Family, and Acceptance outside of the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015.
Kristin Murphy, Kristin Murphy

As public support continues to grow for LGBTQ rights, opponents remain more likely than other U.S. adults to identify as white Christians, according to new data from Public Religion Research Institute.

Among the 7% of Americans described by the institute as “completely against pro-LGBTQ policies,” 6 in 10 call themselves white evangelicals, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics, the study showed.

However, even within these faith groups, support for gay rights is high. Majorities of all major racial, partisan, religious and regional groups now favor protecting members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in housing, hiring and places of public accommodation, Public Religion Research Institute reported.

“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,” said Natalie Jackson, the organization’s director of research, in a press release.

Congress is currently debating two bills, the Equality Act and the Fairness for All Act, that would add such protections to federal civil rights law. So far, the broad support for the policies captured by the survey has not been enough to overcome partisan conflict related to both religious freedom and transgender rights.

Many conservative leaders, including key figures in faith communities, worry the Equality Act would empower government officials to punish Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. Although the bill would keep in place existing faith-based exemptions to civil rights policy, it would also limit the application of federal religious freedom law.

“We can’t be so anxious to protect one class of people that we harm another,” said Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-New Mexico, last month.

Just three Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the Equality Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 25. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill last Wednesday, no Republican senator spoke in support of the proposal.

Unlike the Equality Act, the Fairness for All Act balances anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community with conscience protections for religious organizations. But it, too, has faced pushback from conservative leaders who worry it’s not a long-term solution for people of faith.

“When you create legislation like this, and then you create (faith-based) exemptions, just consider how weak the exemptions are,” wrote Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on the so-called Fairness for All approach in 2018.

Although support for same-sex marriage has surged in the past decade, Public Religion Research Institute’s report shows that many Americans still oppose the practice.

In 2020, around one-third of U.S. adults, including 50% of white evangelicals, 44% of Latter-day Saints and just under half of Republicans, opposed allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, the survey reported.