Factsheets Print

Fact Sheet | Gay and Lesbian Issues

[06.08.2014]

What You Need to Know: Gay and Lesbian Issues

I. Same-Sex Marriage

A majority (53 percent) of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 41 percent who are opposed.

Party Affiliation. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Democrats and a majority (57 percent) of independents favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 34 percent of Republicans.

Religious Affiliation. Religious groups fall on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. More than 8-in-10 (83 percent) Jewish Americans, roughly three-quarters (73 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 62 percent of white mainline Protestants, 58 percent of white Catholics, and 56 percent of Hispanic Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. By contrast, nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants and 59 percent of black Protestants oppose same-sex marriage. Hispanic Protestants are split, with 46 percent in favor and 49 percent who oppose.

Generation. There is more than a 30-point generation gap. Nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) young adults (age 18 to 29) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 38 percent of seniors (age 65+). A majority (56 percent) of seniors are opposed.

Region. Roughly 6-in-10 Americans who live in the Northeast (60 percent) and West (58 percent)—including 59 percent of Californians—support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. A majority (51 percent) of Americans who live in the Midwest also support same-sex marriage, while southerners are split between those who support it (48 percent) and those who are opposed (48 percent).

II. Same-Sex Marriage and Religion

Today, a slim majority (51 percent) of Americans agree that same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs, but nearly as many (45 percent) disagree.

Religious Affiliation. Nearly 8-in-10 (78 percent) white evangelical Protestants agree that same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs, including nearly two-thirds (64 percent) who completely agree. More than 6-in-10 (61 percent) black Protestants and a majority (56 percent) of Hispanic Protestants also believe same-sex marriage violates their religious beliefs. A majority (53 percent) of Catholics overall also perceive conflict between the issue and their faith, however there are substantial ethnic divisions. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) white Catholics report a conflict between their religious beliefs and same-sex marriage, compared to less than half (45 percent) of Hispanic Catholics. Less than half (45 percent) of white mainline Protestants say their religious beliefs are at odds with the issue of same-sex marriage, while half (50 percent) disagree.

Majorities of Americans perceive three religious groups to be unfriendly to LGBT people: the Catholic Church (58 percent), the Mormon church (53 percent), and evangelical Christian churches (51 percent). Compared to other major religious groups, the Catholic Church is perceived to be the group most unfriendly to LGBT people.

III. Discrimination Against Gay, Lesbian and Transgender People in American Society & Workplace Protections

Today, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans believe that gay and lesbian people face a lot of discrimination in the United States, while similar numbers (71 percent) say transgender Americans face a lot of discrimination.

Overall, Americans strongly favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people from job discrimination. More than 7-in-10 (72 percent) Americans favor such laws, while less than one-quarter (23 percent) are opposed.

Party Affiliation. There is solid support across party affiliation for laws that would protect gay and lesbian people against job discrimination. Majorities of Democrats (79 percent), independents (75 percent), and Republicans (61 percent) favor such laws.

Religious Affiliation. Majorities of all religious groups, including religiously unaffiliated Americans (82 percent), white mainline Protestants (75 percent), Catholics (73 percent), black Protestants (69 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (57 percent) favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people from job discrimination.

Three-quarters (75 percent) of Americans also agree that Congress should pass laws to protect transgender people from job discrimination, while approximately 1-in-5 (21 percent) disagree. [PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, September 2011]

IV. The Morality-Acceptance Gap on Gay and Lesbian Relationships

Despite majority support for same-sex marriage, a slim majority (51 percent) of Americans nonetheless say that sex between adults of the same gender is morally wrong, while about 4-in-10 (43 percent) say it is morally acceptable.

Generation. There are substantial generational divisions in judgments about the morality of same-gender sexual relations. Young adults are roughly twice as likely as the seniors to say that sex between two adults of the same gender is morally acceptable (58 percent vs. 30 percent). More than 6-in-10 (62 percent) seniors say that sex between two adults of the same gender is morally wrong.

V. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Federalism

Half (50 percent) of Americans favor requiring the federal government to recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples that were performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal, while 4-in-10 (40 percent) oppose. [PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, March 2013]

Party Affiliation. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65 percent) and half (50 percent) of independents favor requiring the federal government to recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples that were performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal. Less than one-third of Republicans (32 percent) favor federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and more than 6-in-10 (61 percent) are opposed. [PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, March 2013]

Religious Affiliation. Majorities of religiously unaffiliated Americans (71 percent), white mainline Protestants (54 percent), and Catholics (52 percent) favor requiring the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, majorities of white evangelical Protestants (70 percent) oppose this requirement. Minority Christians are divided (41 percent favor, 44 percent opposed). [PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, March 2013]

Generation. More than 6-in-10 (63 percent) Millennials (age 18-29) favor requiring the federal government to recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples that were performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal, compared to 36 percent of seniors (age 65 and older). A majority (53 percent) of seniors oppose this requirement. [PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, March 2013]

A majority (52 percent) of Americans say that same-sex marriage should be left up to the states, while 43 percent believe it should be decided at the national level. Americans who favor same-sex marriage are much more likely to say the issue should be decided at the federal level (54 percent) than those who are opposed to (32 percent).

VI. Parenting and Adoption by Gay and Lesbian Couples

A majority (58 percent) of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian people to adopt children, while 37 percent are opposed. There are some divisions by party affiliation and religious affiliation.

Political Affiliation. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Democrats, a majority (61 percent) of independents, and more than 4-in-10 (42 percent) Republicans favor allowing gay and lesbian people to adopt children. A majority (52 percent) of Republicans are opposed.

Religious affiliation. Majorities of Jews (80 percent), religiously unaffiliated Americans (75 percent), white mainline Protestants (68 percent), and Catholics (61 percent) favor allowing gay and lesbian people to adopt children. Six-in-ten (61 percent) white evangelical Protestants, 54 percent of black Protestants, and 50 percent of Hispanic Protestants oppose allowing gay and lesbian people to adopt children.

Today, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans believe gay and lesbian couples can be as good as heterosexual couples as parents, while less than 3-in-10 (28 percent) Americans disagree.

VII. Churches and Clergy: Ordination of Gay and Lesbian People

Half (50 percent) of Americans agree that gay and lesbian people should be eligible for ordination as clergy with no special requirements, while less than 4-in-10 (38 percent) disagree. [PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, March 2013]

Majorities of religiously unaffiliated Americans (69 percent) and Catholics (54 percent) favor allowing gay and lesbian people to be ordained as clergy, compared to half (50 percent) of white mainline Protestants, 4-in-10 (41 percent) minority Christians, and less than 1-in-4 (24 percent) white evangelical Protestants. Nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants say they oppose such a policy. [PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, March 2013]

VIII. Nature vs. Nurture Debate About Sexual Orientation

Currently, more than 4-in-10 (44 percent) Americans believe that being gay or lesbian is “something a person is born with,” compared to 36 percent who say it is “due to factors such as upbringing or environment.” More than 1-in-10 (12 percent) say it is the result of some combination.

Religious Affiliation. A majority of Jewish Americans (64 percent), white Catholics (61 percent), white mainline Protestants (56 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (53 percent), and Hispanic Catholics (51 percent) believe sexual orientation is an innate trait. Other religious groups are less likely to believe sexual orientation is innate. Only 3-in-10 (30 percent) Hispanic Protestants, one-quarter (25 percent) of white evangelical Protestants, and less than 1-in-5 (19 percent) black Protestants believe homosexuality is something a person is born with.

Note: Unless otherwise specified results are based on the following: Public Religion Research Institute, LGBT Issues & Trends Survey, February 2014.