The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Mormon church vs. LGBT community, support for Mormons’ position

Vaughn Brison, 51, left, and Steve Visano, 54, right, kiss after exchanging their vows during a group wedding ceremony at a hotel in honor of Florida's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage equality on February 5 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In January Florida became the 36th state where gay marriage in legal. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Mormon church is getting a little backup in its push for so-called "religious freedom" legislation.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its support last week for both the religious freedom push and LGBT nondiscrimination laws, which it characterized as a middle ground. LGBT groups applauded the church's endorsement of LGBT protections, but criticized the religious freedom portion of its stance.

A poll released Thursday shows a significant majority of the U.S. agrees with the church's position.

The Associated Press-GfK poll found 57 percent of Americans believe wedding-related businesses should be able to refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons, compared with 39 percent who disagree. And half believe judges and others authorized to issue marriage licenses should be allowed to refuse to do so if it goes against their religious beliefs, while 46 percent disagree.

The so-called religious freedom bills have come under fire in a number of states, in part because of their broad wording. Opponents of a Georgia bill launched a campaign suggesting it could lead to unintended consequences such as those accused of domestic abuse defending their actions as religious belief. The threat of unintended consequences was also a factor in Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's (R) decision to veto the state's controversial religious freedom bill last year.

The backlash against Arizona's bill looked like a death knell for states' efforts to pass such legislation. It was criticized by business leaders and the NFL, which threatened to move the Super Bowl, and also by some on the right including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and the Mormon mayors of two heavily-Mormon towns -- Mesa Mayor Scott Smith (R) and Gilbert Mayor John Lewis (R).

Despite the criticism over these bills, the new poll shows many believe religious protections are reasonable, at least broadly speaking. And with the possibility of a U.S. Supreme Court decision later this year that could make marriage legal for same-sex couples nationwide, it wouldn't be surprising to see a spike in the number of statehouses considering bills preemptively guarding religious freedom introduced by emboldened lawmakers.

The new battle lines in the fight for LGBT rights have been drawn.