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PRRI’s American Values Atlas Finds Emerging Public Consensus in Support of LGBT Rights
By Nearly Two-to-One Margin, Americans Oppose Businesses Refusing Service to Gay and Lesbian People on Religious Grounds
All Major Ethnic and Racial Groups—Including African Americans—Now Support Same-Sex Marriage

WASHINGTON (May 1, 2018)As the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether a small business can legally deny goods or services to LGBT Americans based on the religious beliefs of the owner, a massive new national survey finds broad opposition to this policy. The survey also finds an emerging consensus in support of same-sex marriage, with most religious groups and all major ethnic and racial groups now supporting it.

The landmark survey, released today, was conducted by the nonpartisan PRRI as part of its American Values Atlas (AVA). The survey, based on approximately 40,000 interviews conducted across 2017 and spanning all 50 states, explores support for same-sex marriage, religiously based refusals to provide products or services to gay and lesbian people, and nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people in housing, public accommodations, and employment.


Clear Majority of Americans Oppose Businesses Refusing to Serve Gay and Lesbian People for Religious Reasons

A clear majority of Americans—60 percent—oppose allowing small business owners in their state to refuse service to gay and lesbian people if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. Just 33 percent of Americans support such religious exemption claims. Attitudes on this issue have remained stable since 2015, when 59 percent of Americans opposed allowing such religiously based service refusals.

The broad opposition to religion-based service refusals carries down to the state level, where majorities of Americans in 47 states believe small business owners should not be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds. Only in Utah (48 percent) and the Dakotas (49 percent, each) do fewer than half of the state’s residents oppose these refusals.

Nearly all major religious groups believe small business owners should not be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian people for religious reasons. Most Christian groups oppose religiously based service refusals as well, including black Protestants (65 percent), white mainline Protestants (60 percent), Hispanic Catholics (60 percent), white Catholics (59 percent), Orthodox Christians (57 percent), and Hispanic Protestants (55 percent). And there is broad agreement across non-Christian religious groups as well: A majority of Unitarian Universalists (86 percent), Buddhists (73 percent), Jewish Americans (70 percent), Muslims (59 percent), and Hindus (56 percent) oppose such a policy. More than seven in ten (72 percent) religiously unaffiliated Americans are also opposed.

White evangelical Protestants and Mormons are the only major religious groups among whom a majority support allowing small business owners to refuse service to gay or les­bian people on religious grounds. Both support this policy at the same rate: Fifty-three percent.

“While religious liberty is a widely held value, most believe that small businesses that are open to the public should serve all customers, and that personal religious objections of the owners should not be allowable grounds for refusing service to gay and lesbian customers,” said PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “White evangelical Protestants and Mormons—the only major religious groups who support these measures—are a clear minority, even among religious Americans. While they may hold outsized political influence, combined they represent less than one in five Americans today.”

A majority of Republicans continue to favor allowing business owners to claim religious exemptions from serving gay and lesbian customers. Fifty-two percent of Republicans—including 59 percent of conservative Republicans—say business owners in their state should be allowed to refuse products or services on religious grounds to gay and lesbian people. A majority of moderate (55 percent) and liberal (63 percent) Republicans are opposed, along with 60 percent of independents and more than three-quarters (76 percent) of Democrats.


Majority Support for Same-Sex Marriage Now Exists Across All Major Racial and Ethnic Groups

The American Values Atlas finds a substantial increase in support for same-sex marriage since the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Today, more than six in ten (61 percent) Americans support same-sex marriage, while only 30 percent are opposed.

While conventional wisdom holds that people of color oppose LGBT rights, today a majority of all racial and ethnic groups favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. Since 2013 there has been a double-digit increase in support for same-sex marriage among white (53 vs. 63 percent), black (41 vs. 52 percent), and Hispanic (51 vs. 61 percent) Americans. Majorities of smaller racial and ethnic groups also support same-sex marriage today, including Asian-Pacific Islander Americans (72 percent), Native Americans (56 percent), and those identifying as multiracial or with another racial and ethnic group (66 percent).

The strength of support for same-sex marriage has also increased dramatically over the past decade, while the strength of opposition has fallen in nearly equal measure. Today, Americans who strongly favor same-sex marriage outnumber those who strongly oppose it by a margin of more than two to one  (30 percent vs. 14 percent).

There are also signs that this emerging consensus will continue, as young adults (ages 18-29) are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality (77 percent support, 17 percent oppose). And support for same-sex marriage among young adults continues to grow, having increased five percentage points in the last five years. Moreover, while just 47 percent of seniors (age 65 and up) say same-sex marriage should be legal, support is up 11 percentage points from just 36 percent in the last five years.

Majorities of Americans in 44 states now support same-sex marriage. The issue garners less than a majority of support in Alabama (41 percent), Mississippi (42 percent), Tennessee (46 percent), West Virginia (48 percent), Louisiana (48 percent), and North Carolina (49 percent). But only in Alabama do a majority of residents oppose same-sex marriage.

“The country has reached a milestone moment in the debate over LGBT rights,” said Dan Cox, Research Director at PRRI. “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.”

Majorities of nearly all religious groups now support same-sex marriage, with white evangelical Protestants and Mormons remaining the only holdouts with a majority opposing. While about one in three (34 percent) white evangelical Protestants support same-sex marriage, nearly six in ten (58 percent) are opposed. Just 40 percent of Mormons support same-sex marriage, with 53 percent opposed. However, there is evidence that even these groups are trending toward majority support.

  • Since 2013, opposition to same-sex marriage has dropped 13 percentage points among white evangelical Protestants (from 71 to 58 percent). Opposition among Mormons has dropped 15 percentage points since 2014 (from 68 percent to 53 percent).
  • Fifty-three percent of young white evangelical Protestants, compared to 25 percent of white evangelical seniors, favor legalizing same-sex marriage. A majority (52 percent) of young Mormons also believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Only about one-third (32 percent) of Mormon seniors agree.

Overwhelming majorities of Unitarians (97 percent), Buddhists (80 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (80 percent), Jewish Americans (77 percent), and Hindus (75 percent) support same-sex marriage. A slim majority (51 percent) of Muslims favor same-sex marriage, but only 34 percent are opposed. Many branches of Christianity also support same-sex marriage, including roughly two-thirds of white mainline Protestants (67 percent), white Catholics (66 percent), Orthodox Christians (66 percent), and Hispanic Catholics (65 percent).

There are large disparities in attitudes by party affiliation. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Democrats and about two-thirds (66 percent) of independents favor same-sex marriage. Only 42 percent of Republicans agree, whereas 51 percent of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage.


The American Values Atlas (AVA) is a project of PRRI. The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI and made possible by generous grants from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the Gill Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock. Results for questions on specific issues are based on a subset of 40,017 telephone interviews (including 23,903 cell phone interviews) conducted between April 5, 2017 and December 23, 2017 by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. The margin of error for the entire sample is +/- 1.2 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. 

About PRRI:
PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.