By Letitia Stein
March 10 (Reuters) - The majority of respondents to a new U.S. poll opposed laws barring transgender people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identities and indicated growing acceptance for gay rights, a nonpartisan research group said on Friday.
Fifty-three percent of the Americans surveyed oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth, according to the national poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
The survey showed that 39 percent of respondents favored such laws, and almost one in 10 of the 2,031 adults surveyed in February by telephone had no opinion.
The issue of transgender bathroom rights has become the latest flashpoint in the long U.S. battle over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
Significant partisan divisions remain, the survey found. While 65 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents oppose laws limiting transgender bathroom rights, 59 percent of Republicans support the laws, according to the poll. Thirty-six percent of Republicans oppose them.
"This is a case where it really is Republicans kind of pulling away and being more of an outlier to the rest of the country," said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Washington-based group.
The poll results come as Republican leaders in Texas are among those considering whether to follow North Carolina in requiring people to use the bathrooms matching their gender at birth in public schools and government buildings.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week sidestepped a major ruling on whether transgender students are entitled to bathroom choice under federal anti-discrimination law.
That decision followed Republican President Donald Trump's swift move to rescind a 2016 directive by former Democratic President Barack Obama's administration to open up bathroom access in U.S. public schools.
Across the United States, acceptance is growing for same-sex marriage, found the poll, which had a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points. Support for same-sex marriage rose to 63 percent in the new survey, up from 52 percent in a 2013 poll.
Partisan divides highlight the influence of white evangelicals among Republicans, Jones said in a telephone interview. They are the only major religious group still strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, polling showed, with most others supportive and black Protestants divided.
While only 45 percent of Republicans favor the legalization of same-sex marriage, the poll found a majority of Republicans under the age of 50 support it.
The poll also found bipartisan support for laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Matthew Lewis)
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