A study released Thursday shows that support for gay equality among Hispanics is at least on par with that of the general population.

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A new national study challenges the widely-held perception that Latinos are persistently anti-gay.

Released Thursday by the research group Social Science Research Solutions and the Hispanic advocacy organization National Council of La Raza, it found Latino support for many pro-gay policies at least on par with that of the population as a whole.

Latinos in the SSRS study, for example, support same-sex marriage at a rate of 54 percent, compared to 53 percent of those in the general population who indicated such support in a Gallup poll last year.

And by even wider margins, respondents in the SSRS study favor policies aimed at protecting gays against hate crimes and discrimination related to jobs, housing and military service.

The findings come as a referendum seeking to place Washington’s same-sex marriage law on the November ballot has begun circulating across the state, and appearing in churches — including Catholic parishes, where many Latinos worship. Referendum backers, including the National Organization for Marriage, are hoping voters ultimately reject the new law.

With a population exceeding 50 million, Latinos represent the fastest growing group in the U.S., one with a strong family-oriented culture and firm religious beliefs. And where they stand as a group on issues like same-sex marriage is gaining increased national attention.

Last month, for example, publicly released internal documents from the National Organization of Marriage revealed that group’s strategy of trying to make opposition to same-sex marriage “a key badge of Latino identity.”

Thursday’s SSRS report, entitled LGBT Acceptance and Support: The Hispanic Perspective, was funded by the Arcus Foundation, an organization focused on environmental and social-justice issues, including equality for gays.

“There is a clear misperception among the general population about where Latinos stand” on LGBT issues,” said David Dutwin, vice president of SSRS and author of the report.

“In reality, as society is evolving on LGBT issues and becoming more accepting of this community, so too are Hispanics.”

To be sure, there is opposition among Latinos against all facets of gay equality — just as there is in the population as a whole.

Some Latino groups, for example, rallied in New York last year against that state’s same-sex marriage bill. And exit polls showed more than half of Latino voters in California backed Proposition 8, the ballot measure that repealed that state’s same-sex marriage law.

The study found that foreign-born Latinos are more traditional and therefore tend to be less supportive of gay equality than those who were born in the U.S. or consider themselves “Americanized.”

Latino men, Latino Republicans and Latinos who don’t know or associate with anyone who is gay are also more likely to oppose gay rights.

And then there’s the question of religion.

Three out of five Hispanics in the U.S. identify as Catholic. And while polls put support for same sex marriage among lay Catholics at around 56 percent, church teachings and most church leaders oppose same-sex marriage.

Among Catholic Latinos in the SSRS survey, 57 percent say they support same-sex marriage, while support among other Christians was around 43 percent.

“The Protestant/Catholic divide is huge …” Dutwin said.

A partner with Washington United for Marriage, the coalition seeking to retain the state’s same-sex marriage law, Seattle-based Entre Hermanos is working to take the message of LGBT equality to the Spanish-speaking population in the state, its executive director Marcos Martinez said.

It is important, Martinez said, to frame the conversation of gay rights around family because that is such an important part of Latino life.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.