A survey released Wednesday shows strong support among U.S. Roman Catholics for gay unions and rights.

An overwhelming majority of Catholics support civil marriages for gay and lesbian couples, and perhaps even religious marriages.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents to a Public Religion Research Institute survey favor either allowing marriage (43%) or civil unions (31%) for gay couples. Twenty-two percent of Catholics object to any recognition.

But when marriage is defined as a civil marriage “like you get at city hall,” Catholic support skyrockets to seventy-one percent.

A majority of Catholics also support laws that would outlaw discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation (73%), the right of gay and bisexual troops to serve openly (63%), and allowing gay couples to adopt children (60%), the survey found.

“It may come as a surprise to many that rank and file Catholics are more supportive of rights for gays and lesbians than other Christians and the public,” Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, said in a statement. “But the best data available paints this consistent portrait across a range of issues, including same-sex marriage, workplace non-discrimination, open military service, and adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples.”

Additionally, a majority of Catholics (56%) do not believe gay sex is a sin. Forty-six percent of Catholics agree that it is sinful.

In several areas, Catholics are more supportive of gay rights and unions than the general population, despite the church's teachings that homosexuality is a “disorder” and Pope Benedict's vocal opposition to gay marriage.

“Most American Catholics believe that one can be a good Catholic and disagree with the Vatican and the bishops on issues of personal conscience; gay marriage has clearly become another issue … which Catholics believe is not core to what it means to be a Catholic,” Dr. Michelle Dillon, chair of the Sociology Department of University of New Hampshire, said.