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New poll: Millennial Generation Transforming Landscape on Gay and Lesbian Issues

Major religious groups on both sides of same-sex marriage debate

Washington, D.C. – The Millennial generation (age 18 to 29) is transforming the landscape on gay and lesbian issues in American religion, politics and society, a new survey finds. On issues related to gay and lesbian Americans, there is at least a 20-point generation gap between Millennials and seniors (age 65 and older) on church policies, public policy, and acceptance of social roles.

The Millennials, Religion & Gay and Lesbian Issues Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and released today during a national teleconference, is one of the largest public opinion surveys on religion and gay and lesbian issues ever conducted. The survey also finds that these large generational differences on gay and lesbian issues persist even among conservative political and religious groups such as Republicans and white evangelical Protestants.

“This is the first year that support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry is not a minority position,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Overall trends and the strongly supportive attitudes of the Millennial generation suggest that we will look back on 2011 as the year marking a sea change in American attitudes on gay and lesbian issues.”

Despite the conventional wisdom that religious groups generally oppose rights for gay and lesbian Americans, the new survey also finds that all major religious groups support employment discrimination protections for gay and lesbian Americans. Even on the more contentious issue of same-sex marriage, there are major religious groups on both sides of the debate.

“The Millennial generation also has a strong opinion about the role churches are playing on these issues,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “Seven-in-ten Millennials say that churches are alienating younger Americans by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.”

The survey also found broad general acceptance of same-sex relationships in society and that Americans are comfortable with gay and lesbian people in a variety of public professions.

Among the findings:

  • Public support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry has registered double-digit increases over the last 5 years. In PRRI’s current July survey, views of same-sex marriage evenly divided; 47% of Americans favor it and 47% oppose it.
  • Among Americans who say their views have shifted over the last five years, more than twice as many say their current opinion about the legality of same-sex marriage has become more supportive than more opposed (19% and 9% respectively).
  • A majority (51%) of Americans currently say supporting same-sex marriage is the more socially acceptable position to hold.
  • Most Americans (51%) believe it is difficult to live openly as a gay or lesbian person, but nearly twice as many Americans believe more gay and lesbian people “coming out” is a good thing (34%) rather than a bad thing (18%) for American society.
  • Slightly more Catholics believe the Catholic Church’s position on the issue of homosexuality is too conservative (46%) than believe it is about right (43%).
  • Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) Millennials agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. Among seniors, only 37% agree.
  • More than six-in-ten Americans, including majorities of all major religious groups, believe that negative messages from America’s places of worship contribute either a lot (23%) or a little (40%) to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

Read the report.

Read the topline results, questionnaire and methodology.

The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and funded by the Arcus Foundation. The independent findings and analysis in this report are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arcus Foundation. Results of the survey were based on 3,000 bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews, including 1,000 cell phone interviews, conducted between July 14, 2011 and July 30, 2011. The margin of error is +/- 2.0 percentage points for the general sample and +/- 4.5 percentage points for the 18-29 year old sample at the 95% confidence interval.