A new Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) study on how Americans view the LGBT community confirmed some generally accepted ideas, but also offered a few surprises.
“A Shifting Landscape: A Decade of Change in American Attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Issues,” released on February 26, is an analysis of data taken from 2003 (the year Massachusetts became the first state in the US to enact marriage equality) to the present day, with the intent of looking at how opinions have shifted over the last decade.
Though the number of Americans in favor of marriage equality and LGBT rights has gone up considerably, a shift that can be attributed to at least some extent to the improving legal landscape, landmark victories such as the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act didn’t have much of an effect on the numbers. The study found that altogether, 53 percent of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage, a figure that has changed little since 2011. In 2003, it was only 32 percent.
Alfred Kinsey’s findings aside, out of 4509 people PRRI polled in November and December 2013, 5.1 percent identified themselves as LGBT. The editors of the study wrote that this is far below what the American public assumes—the median estimate is 20 percent.
People who believe that AIDS is a gay plague sent as divine punishment now form only a small minority, and it’s shrinking fast. Only 14 percent of the population currently believes the idea, down from 36 percent in 1992.
It’s no surprise that one of the demographics most in favor of marriage equality is agnostics and atheists, at 73 percent, but the Jewish population’s percentage of supporters is actually higher: 83 percent. Comparison numbers for the Jewish population in 2003, when agnostics and atheists were found to be the most in favor of marriage equality, were not available.
Another demographic often in favor of LGBT equal rights is the younger generation. According to the results of the study, “It is difficult to overstate the effect age has on support for same-sex marriage. Even among groups that strongly oppose same-sex marriage, there are significant generational gaps.”
The report noted that the gap is especially wide among Republicans. “Half (50%) of Millennial Republicans [those aged 18 to 33]favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, a view shared by only 18% of Republicans who are members of the Silent Generation [aged 68 or older].” Altogether, almost 70 percent of Millennials are in favor of marriage equality.
Race was also found to be a factor in individuals’ views of marriage equality. For example, although Protestants and evangelicals were discovered to be the faith communities with the least support for LGBT rights, there was still a significant racial divide in opinion. Only 27 percent of white evangelical Protestants said they approved of marriage equality, but 35 percent of their black counterparts said the same. Additionally, despite the relatively low numbers, both groups’ approval rates increased by ten percentage points or more since just 2003.
A major gap in perception versus reality was uncovered regarding Catholics, with nearly 60 percent of Americans considering them unwelcoming to the LGBT community. In contrast, an PRRI survey found that 57 percent of Catholics overall were in support of marriage equality—compared to the 53 percent of the general public that support it. White Catholics were most likely to be in favor, at 58 percent, but the rates of Hispanic Catholics weren’t significantly lower at 56 percent.
Another misconception was found in regards to anti-discrimination laws. 75 percent believed there is already a federal law in place to protect people against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, when in fact there is not. Additionally, while some states have such protections, the majority do not. This false impression is part of the reason federal laws such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act have yet to pass despite a majority of voters being in favor of same.
The full study can be read here.