US: Most back LGBT+ rights, but religion still a flashpoint

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Most Americans now believe LGBT+ people should be protected against discrimination, a major survey has found, but one in three thinks businesses should be allowed to refuse to serve gay customers on religious grounds.

Nearly three-quarters of the 40,000 Americans surveyed said they favoured laws that would protect LGBT+ people from discrimination, in work and housing, while only about one in five opposed such protections.

“Support for LGBT rights continues to be strong and expansive in all 50 states,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive and founder of the non-partisan, Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which conducted the survey.

“Issues that in the recent past demarcated major political and religious fault lines now find broad agreement.”

But the survey results also reflect a growing debate in the United States between civil rights advocates opposing discrimination of LGBT+ people, and religious groups seeking the right to operate according to their spiritual beliefs.

“Americans support the freedom of creative professionals to create art consistent with their convictions,” said Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group, in an emailed statement.

“This principle protects the lesbian graphic designer or the atheist painter as much as it protects the Christian filmmaker.”

Just over half of those questioned said they would oppose allowing a small business owner in their state to refuse to serve gay people if it would violate their religious beliefs, down from 61% in 2016.

In 2018, the US Supreme Court sided with a baker, who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, saying it would violate his Christian beliefs.

Opposition to religious discrimination was sharply divided along party lines, with seven in 10 Democrats surveyed opposed to small business owners refusing service to lesbians and gays based on religious beliefs, compared with 39% of Republicans.

LGBT+ rights groups welcomed the study results, as a sign of progress on acceptance nationwide, with more than six in 10 Americans (62%) also supporting same-sex marriage, compared to just over a third in 2007.

“Americans – across race, party and almost every demographic – continue to expand their support for equality,” Lucas Acosta, national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a US advocacy group, said in emailed comments.

“No longer is support for LGBTQ equality a wedge issue, but rather a unifying message supported overwhelmingly by Americans.”

-Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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