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Majority of Americans Oppose Transgender Bathroom Restrictions

White Evangelicals Only Major Religious Group that Supports Allowing Businesses to Refuse Service to Gay, Lesbian People on Religious Grounds

WASHINGTON—As disputes over the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice erupt across the country—and with the Supreme Court opting not to rule on the issue—a new survey finds most Americans oppose so-called transgender “bathroom bills.” Fifty-three percent oppose laws that would require transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth rather than their current gender identity, while 39 percent favor such laws.

Sharp political divides on transgender bathroom restrictions help explain ongoing disputes. Strong majorities of Democrats (65 percent) and independents (57 percent), compared to only 36 percent of Republicans, oppose transgender bathroom restrictions; nearly six in ten (59 percent) Republicans favor requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. The survey also finds familiarly with transgender people is on the rise: 21 percent of Americans report having a close friend or family member who is transgender, nearly double the percentage who said the same in 2011 (11 percent).

These are among the key findings from a new national survey—focusing on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues—conducted by PRRI, a nonpartisan research organization, among 2,031 adults between February 10, 2017, and February 19, 2017.

Opposition to allowing businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans oppose allowing small business owners in their state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

“Opinions about same-sex marriage do not necessarily translate directly to the question of whether business owners should be allowed to refuse services to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds,,” says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “For example, more than seven in ten black Protestants, who remain divided on the issue of same-sex marriage, oppose religious exemptions that would allow small businesses to refuse to serve gay and lesbian people.”

Among major religious groups, white evangelical Protestants stand out as the only group in which a majority (56 percent) favor religiously based service refusals. Fewer than one-third of white mainline Protestants (32 percent), Catholics (28 percent), black Protestants (24 percent), religiously unaffiliated Americans (21 percent), and members of non-Christian traditions (18 percent) support such a religious exemption for small business owners.

Increasing support for same-sex marriage. After plateauing in 2015, support for same-sex marriage has risen over the past year. More than six in ten (63 percent) Americans now favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. As recently as 2013, only slightly more than half (52 percent) of the public backed same-sex marriage.

“Although support for same-sex marriage steadily rose through the 2000s and early 2010s, support levels remained relatively flat across 2015,” says PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox. “But we are now seeing a renewed upward trend—even among groups who have traditionally been more opposed.”

Strong partisan divides remain over the legalization of same-sex marriage, but there is evidence that these may abate over time. Three-quarters of Democrats (76 percent) and two-thirds of independents (66 percent) support same-sex marriage, compared to only 45 percent of Republicans. However, nearly six in ten (57 percent) Republicans under the age of 50 support same-sex marriage.

Today, there is majority support for same-sex marriage in every region of the country and among most religious groups, although there are significant differences in intensity. Nearly seven in ten Americans living in the Northeast (69 percent), West (68 percent) and Midwest (67 percent)—but only 54 percent of Southerners—support same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage also garners majority support among most major religious groups in the country today, with two exceptions. Black Protestants are divided on the issue (47 percent favor, 51 percent oppose). White evangelicals stand out as the only major religious group in the country in which a strong majority oppose same-sex marriage (34 percent favor; 61 percent oppose).

Ongoing support for LGBT nondiscrimination laws. The survey finds continued broad support for laws that protect LGBT individual from discrimination. Seven in ten (70 percent) Americans—including nearly eight in ten Democrats (77 percent), more than seven in ten (72 percent) independents, and six in ten Republicans (60 percent)—favor laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing.

Divide on sexual morality. The country is evenly divided on the question of whether sex is only morally acceptable if it is between a married man and woman (48 percent agree, 49 percent disagree). More than eight in ten (83 percent) white evangelical Protestants believe sex is only moral when it is between a married heterosexual couple, as do more than six in ten (63 percent) nonwhite Protestants. Forty-six percent of Catholics, 40 percent of white mainline Protestants, and 23 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans agree.

Among the findings:

  • Support for the Johnson Amendment. More than seven in ten (71 percent) Americans oppose allowing churches and places of worship to endorse political candidates while retaining their tax-exempt status, compared to only 22 percent who favor such a policy.
  • Republicans’ perceptions of which groups face discrimination. In a striking contrast with the general public, few Republicans believe gay and lesbian people face a lot of discrimination (61 percent vs. 40 percent, respectively) in the country today. Republicans are significantly more likely to believe that whites, rather than blacks, experience a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today (43 percent vs. 27 percent). And Republicans are about equally as likely to say both Christians (48 percent) and Muslims (45 percent) experience a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today.
  • Discrimination against Muslims vs. Christians. White evangelicals are more likely to believe that Christians face a lot of discrimination than they are to believe Muslims face a lot of discrimination in the country today (57 percent vs. 44 percent, respectively). White evangelicals are also the only major religious group in which a majority believe Christians face a lot of discrimination. In contrast, roughly three-quarters of religiously unaffiliated Americans (77 percent) and nonwhite Protestants (75 percent), and more than six in ten white Catholics (64 percent) and white mainline Protestants (63 percent) agree Muslims face a lot of discrimination.
  • Discrimination against immigrants. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) say immigrants face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to say immigrants face a lot of discrimination in society (82 percent vs. 41 percent, respectively).
  • Churches alienating young people. Half (50 percent) of Americans agree religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues, while nearly as many (45 percent) disagree. Majorities of religiously unaffiliated individuals (65 percent), white mainline Protestants (51 percent), and white Catholics (51 percent) agree, while majorities of white evangelical Protestants (63 percent) and nonwhite Protestants (56 percent) disagree.

The topline questionnaire, full methodology, and additional findings and analysis are available here: https://www.prri.org/research/lgbt-transgender-bathroom-discrimination-religious-liberty/


The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI. The survey was made possible by generous grants from the Gill Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the Arcus Foundation. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between February 10, 2017, and February 19, 2017, by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 2,031 adults 18 years of age or older living in the United States (1,211 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.6 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The design effect for the survey is 1.4. In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context and order effects.

PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.