In most states, it is legal for an employer to fire someone, a landlord to evict someone, and a business owner to deny service to someone — all because the person in question is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer.
Most Americans aren't okay with that. A new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that a majority of Americans in all 50 states think anti-LGBTQ discrimination should be illegal in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations (places that serve the public, such as restaurants and hotels):
The survey also found that 59 percent of Americans don't think businesses should be allowed to refuse service to LGBTQ people based on their religious beliefs, with opposition to businesses' religious refusals ranging from 43 percent to 71 percent at the state level.
Generally, support for prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations is very high in New England and the West.
One standout is Utah, where 82 percent said anti-LGBTQ discrimination should be illegal. This might seem surprising at first, considering Utah is, traditionally, very conservative. But Utah is actually the only red state in the country to have these kinds of legal protections in place. One reason for that: The Mormon Church, which is headquartered in Utah, supports those legal protections, providing a tremendous political ally for LGBTQ Utahns following a long battle against legalizing same-sex marriage.
Unfortunately, by actually having these kinds of legal protections in place, Utah is a standout not just among conservative states but in most of the country as well. One big reason for that may be that most Americans think anti-LGBTQ discrimination is already illegal — even though it's not.
Most states don't ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
Most states don't ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, housing, or public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, and other places that serve the general public).
As a result, more than half of LGBTQ Americans, according to the LGBTQ advocacy group Movement Advancement Project, live in a state where, under state law, an employer can legally fire someone because he's gay, a landlord can legally evict someone because she's a lesbian, and a hotel manager can legally deny service to someone who's transgender — for no reason other than the person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Currently, 20 states ban at least some forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while two additional states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some other states protect public but not private employees from discrimination. Many municipalities have nondiscrimination laws that only apply within their local borders, even in states that don't have such laws. And some companies prohibit discrimination in their own policies.
The protections vary from state to state. Massachusetts's protections for gender identity and Utah's protections for sexual orientation and gender identity don't apply to public accommodations. Some states also include exemptions for discrimination based on religious grounds. Enforcement varies, as well: Depending on the state, private lawsuits, fines, and jail time are all possible forms of punishment for discrimination.
As PRRI's survey shows, most Americans — in every state — support these kinds of laws. Yet most states don't have them. One possible explanation: Most Americans already think these laws are in place.
Most Americans think LGBTQ people are already protected under the law
Surveys show that most Americans widely support nondiscrimination protections, but a major hurdle to getting the laws passed may be that Americans think they're already in place.
In a 2014 poll from YouGov and the Huffington Post, 62 percent of respondents said it was already illegal under federal law to fire someone for being gay or lesbian, 14 percent said it was legal, and 25 percent weren't sure. The same poll found most Americans — 76 percent — said it should be illegal to fire someone for being gay or lesbian, while just 12 percent said it should be legal.
The YouGov and Huffington Post poll isn't the first to find strong support for civil rights protections for LGBTQ people. A 2014 survey commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, found 63 percent of US voters favored a federal law that protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination, while just 25 percent opposed it.
Another poll from Reuters, conducted in April 2015, found 54 percent of Americans said it's wrong for businesses to refuse service to people based on religious beliefs, while 28 percent said businesses should have that right — suggesting that most Americans would disapprove of businesses discriminating against LGBTQ people on such grounds.
For LGBTQ advocates, the overall results present a tricky situation: Most Americans support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but they don't appear to know that these protections aren't currently explicit under the law.