Growing Latter-day Saint support for LGBTQ rights tops the national average

Backing for same-sex marriage rises, too, but still lags behind rest of the U.S.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young University students rally for LGBTQ rights in March 2020 in front of the Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City. A new survey shows growing support among Latter-day Saints for such rights.

Support among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage, has increased noticeably since 2015, mirroring trends across U.S. society generally, according to a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Based on interviews conducted online and by phone of a nationally representative sample of more than 22,000 adults, the report uncovered an overall increase of 8 percentage points among Americans between 2015 and 2021. Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) now favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals.

Latter-day Saints’ backing for these same protections jumped by 12 percentage points during the same period to exceed the national average at 84%.

This leap was one of the biggest of the 18 faiths included in the study, surpassed only by non-Hispanic Catholics of color, Hindus, Black Protestants and other Protestants of color.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The rise in support corresponds with statements from Latter-day Saint leaders, who worked directly with Utah lawmakers to formulate a law that has come to be known as the “Utah Compromise.”

Enacted in 2015, the law provides statewide nondiscrimination protection for the LGBTQ community in housing and employment. At the same time, it safeguards some religious liberties by, among other measures, preventing workers from being fired for publicly opposing same-sex marriage.

Latter-day Saint apostle Dallin H. Oaks drew attention to the law in a major speech last fall at the University of Virginia in which he argued that “people of faith should not contest every nondiscrimination law or policy that could possibly impinge, however insignificantly, on institutional or individual religious freedom.”

“Likewise,” added Oaks, first counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, “proponents of nondiscrimination need not contest every religious freedom exemption from nondiscrimination laws.”

The church has joined a coalition in Arizona lobbying for a bill similar to Utah’s.

LDS Church opposes the Equality Act

The PRRI survey discovered that the number of Americans who opposed allowing small-business owners to refuse their products and services to gay and lesbian individuals due to religious beliefs grew by 7 percentage points to 66% in 2021.

On this issue, Latter-day Saints saw a slightly smaller increase of 6 percentage points to end up at 44%. Only two groups — Orthodox Christians and white evangelical Protestants — finished lower at 43% and 38% opposed, respectively.

Here again, Latter-day Saints seem to broadly reflect attitudes expressed by their religious leaders, who issued a strong statement in 2019 opposing the bill, known as the Equality Act, designed to encase LGBTQ protections in federal law.

“While providing extremely broad protection for LGBT rights,” the statement read, “the Equality Act provides no protection for religious freedom.”

The church instead has thrown its weight behind a compromise measure, the Fairness for All Act, which a number of prominent LGBTQ and civil rights groups oppose, arguing it would erode protections for women and people of color, while providing only substandard safeguards for LGBTQ individuals.

In the same November speech at the University of Virginia, Oaks spoke in defense of religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws.

Finally, the PRRI study found that Latter-day Saints were also among the least likely to support same-sex marriage (46% in favor). Republican Latter-day Saints, however, were one of the subgroups to undergo the biggest jump in support, from 19% in 2015 to 31% in 2021.

Overall, more than two-thirds (68%) of Americans endorse same-sex marriage.

BYU at center of LGBTQ debate

Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess, author of “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church,” said the study’s findings are “striking” for how closely the views of Latter-day Saints reflected the official line coming from their faith leaders — that is, “growing support for nondiscrimination in housing and employment, but lingering reservations about LGBTQ equality when it comes to marriage.”

The survey comes at a time when tensions over the rights and treatment of the LGBTQ community have made headlines at church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo.

Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland touched off a firestorm last August after sharply criticizing faculty members and students who challenge the faith’s teachings that only man-woman marriage is ordained of God.

More recently, the Church Educational System — led by its newly appointed commissioner, general authority Seventy Clark Gilbert — announced earlier this month a kind of “loyalty” oath for new hires at any church-owned campuses. Among the questions, designed to be completed by an applicant’s local ecclesiastical leader, is one regarding whether the person “[has] a testimony of” the faith’s “teachings on marriage, family and gender.”

This month, individuals led by a board member of the Provo Pride Council bypassed orange fencing put up by BYU so they could light the mountainside “Y” in pink, blue and white — the colors of the transgender pride flag.