Support for LGBT discriminaton protections, gay marriage declines amid a 'growing divide'

Two male groom figurine cake toppers sit atop a same-sex marriage wedding cake with a rainbow flag in background.
Two male groom figurine cake toppers sit atop a same-sex marriage wedding cake with a rainbow flag in background. | Getty Images/YinYang

Support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans and same-sex marriage has slipped compared to previous years, even as a new survey suggests the overwhelming majority of the American public remains supportive of both ideas.

The Public Religion Research Institute released its 2023 American Values Atlas on Tuesday. The survey, which was conducted between March 9 and Dec. 7, 2023, was based on the responses of 22,465 adults in the United States. The margin of error was +/-0.82 percentage points.

"Our survey shows that support for LGBTQ rights has dipped slightly from 2022 to 2023, although the vast majority of Americans continue to endorse anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans and the right of same-sex couples to marry," PRRI CEO Melissa Deckman said in a statement.

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"The growing partisan divide on these issues show the effect of the continuous use of LGBTQ identity and LGBTQ rights as a wedge issue in our nation's culture wars."

Overall, the survey measured support for "laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing" at 76% in 2023, dropping from the 80% recorded in 2022 but higher than the 71% measured in 2015. 

Based on partisan affiliation, support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans is highest among Democrats (89%), followed by independents (78%). The survey finds that most Republicans (59%) also support such protections.

Support for such measures, as surveyed by PRRI, has decreased by 7 percentage points among Republicans from 2022 to 2023. In 2016, 61% of Republicans expressed support for LGBT nondiscrimination protections. Two-thirds (66%) of Republicans supported LGBT nondiscrimination protections in 2022.

Support for such policies declined by 4 percentage points among independents in the last year, down from 82% in 2022. 

The survey also finds that opposition to "allowing small business owners to refuse service" to LGBT individuals "based on their religious beliefs" dropped 5 percentage points in the past year from 65% in 2022 to 60% in 2023.

In 2015, 59% of Americans opposed what the survey described as "religiously based service refusals." 

Broken down by partisan affiliation, 82% of Democrats opposed allowing religious business owners to decline services to LGBT people in certain circumstances as did 60% of independents and 34% of Republicans.

Measured at 59% in 2015, opposition to "religiously based service refusals" rose throughout the past decade to a high of 66% in 2021 before decreasing to 60% in 2023. 

Similarly, opposition to religious exemptions to LGBT nondiscrimination laws among Democrats registered at 74% in 2015, increasing to 86% in 2022. Opposition to "religiously based service refusals" has remained the minority opinion among Republicans, dropping from 40% in 2015. 

Additionally, support for same-sex marriage has dipped from 69% last year to 67% in 2023. Despite the drop compared to the previous year, the percentage of Americans who favor same-sex marriage is substantially higher than the 54% recorded in 2014.

Most Democrats have consistently approved of same-sex marriage throughout the past decade, jumping from 65% in 2014. Same-sex marriage also received majority support from independents in both 2014 (54%) and 2023 (67%). 

Although support for same-sex marriage among Republicans has risen above the 35% measured in 2014, less than half of Republicans support allowing same-sex couples to marry in 2023 (47%).

Views on LGBT-related issues differed based on religious denomination.

Unitarians and Universalists expressed the highest level of support for LGBT nondiscrimination in 2023 (93%), followed by other Christian denominations (88%), the religiously unaffiliated (86%), Buddhists (83%), Jews (81%), other Catholics of Color (80%), adherents to other non-Christian religions (80%), Hispanic Catholics (78%), Mormons (78%), white mainline Protestants (77%), black Protestants (77%) and white Catholics (77%).

Majorities of Hindus (74%), other Protestants of color (72%), orthodox Christians (69%), Hispanic Protestants (61%), white Evangelical Protestants (56%) and Muslims (56%) also favored LGBT nondiscrimination protections. Jehovah's Witnesses were the only denomination where less than half of adherents surveyed (40%) favored LGBT nondiscrimination laws. 

David Closson, the director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at the Christian conservative activist organization Family Research Council, responded to the findings in an interview with The Christian Post. 

"Whenever you look at a poll like this, you look at a survey, the way questions are asked are really important," he said. "And based on the way they've defined nondiscrimination laws as just protecting people ... I don't know many people, including Evangelical Christians, Bible-believing, Gospel-believing Christians, who would oppose it based on the way nondiscrimination is defined."

Closson suggested that "if nondiscrimination were defined along the lines of legislation currently being proposed in Congress such as the Equality Act and the full implications of that were to be understood, it would be really, really different."

The Equality Act proposes amending Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which governs the nondiscrimination provision regarding federal funds. Religious freedom advocacy groups have voiced concern about the bill's impact on religious institutions and Christian businesses that uphold traditional Christian teachings on sexuality and marriage.  

Closson said the Equality Act would force "Christian seminaries, Christian colleges and universities" to violate their deeply held beliefs on gender and sexuality.

He also believes some support among Christians for nondiscrimination protections for LGBT individuals can be attributed to a lack of biblical worldview. Research conducted by his organization in conjunction with pollster George Barna found that only 6% of Christians have a biblical worldview based on responses to questions about their beliefs and practices.

"We're in the middle of a kind of a moral sexual revolution right now that is gaining velocity it seems almost daily," Closson said. "With the decline in Americans who identify as Christian combined with the ... rise in those who are religiously unaffiliated, we are increasingly in a post-Christian world that doesn't understand basic doctrine, particularly Christian sexual ethics." 

The PRRI survey found that religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws received majority opposition from Unitarians and Universalists (85%), Hindus (77%), the religiously unaffiliated (74%), other Catholics of Color (71%), Jews (71%), Hispanic Catholics (70%), black Protestants (68%), Buddhists (68%), other non-Christians (67%), Muslims (58%), white Catholics (57%), white mainline Protestants (57%) and Orthodox Christians (54%). Half of Hispanic Protestants (50%) opposed "religiously based service refusals."

Meanwhile, less than half of other Protestants of color (49%), Jehovah's Witnesses (45%), Mormons (41%) and white Evangelical Protestants (30%) opposed such laws. 

Support for same-sex marriage was highest among the religiously unaffiliated (86%), Buddhists (82%), Jews (80%), other Catholics of color (75%), white mainline Protestants (74%), white Catholics (73%) and Hispanic Catholics (68%). Roughly half of black Protestants (52%) and half of other Protestants of color (50%) favored same-sex marriage, while less than half of Mormons (47%), Hispanic Protestants (44%), Muslims (40%), white Evangelical Protestants (37%) and Jehovah's Witnesses (18%) said the same.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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