Metro Weekly

Majority of Americans don’t support business refusals to serve LGBTQ people

White evangelical Protestants are the only religious group in favor of discriminating against LGBTQ customers

Even as a case on refusing service to same-sex couples is headed towards the U.S. Supreme Court, a new poll finds that a majority of Americans oppose allowing businesses, even those providing wedding-related services, to refuse to serve same-sex couples.

The poll, by Public Religion Research Institute, finds that 53% of the public opposes religious-based refusals to provide services like catering, flowers or wedding cakes to same-sex couples, while 41% favor allowing religious exemptions to people in those industries.

The poll, which surveyed 2,024 adults from Aug 2-8, also asked about attitudes on allowing a similar religious exemption for small businesses, support for LGBTQ-inclusive discrimination laws, support for marriage equality, transgender military service, and transgender bathroom usage.

Notably, one of the key findings of the survey was that, even when broken down by religion, only one group — white evangelical Protestants — had a majority of its followers in favor of allowing wedding-related businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people, by a margin of 69% to 25%. White mainline Protestants were closely divided, with 49% saying there should be exemptions for wedding-related businesses, and 44% saying there should not.

“While the same-sex marriage wedding services debate is often cast as a divide between religious and non-religious Americans, there is in fact only one major religious group in the country — white evangelical Protestants — in which a majority supports allowing wedding-related businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds,” PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones, said in a statement. “Notably, a majority of African American Protestants, who are divided on the question of same-sex marriage, oppose allowing these religiously based refusals to serve gay and lesbian people.”

Fifty-five percent of white Catholics, 64% of non-Christians, 65% of religiously unaffiliated Americans, and 73% of Hispanic Catholics opposed allowing religious exemptions, even for wedding-related businesses.

This issue is likely to receive much attention moving forward, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the case of Jack Phillips, a Christian baker and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo. Phillips claims that, because he holds religious beliefs that oppose same-sex marriage, he should be able to refuse service to same-sex couples. As a result, he is challenging Colorado’s law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people in public accommodations.

Unfortunately, for Phillips, the PRRI poll shows he is not supported by the majority of Americans. Additionally, the poll demonstrates that what support he does enjoy is partially inflated by the wedding-related nature of his business. While 41% of people support the type of exemption that Phillips is seeking for florists, cake bakers, and others in the wedding industry, only 39% of Americans support a similar exemption for small businesses. Even among white evangelical Protestants, support for refusing service to LGBTQ customers drops 9 percentage points when the business in question is not wedding-related.

The PRRI survey also finds that 64% of Americans favor allowing transgender people to serve openly in the U.S. military, while 30% oppose that idea. As expected, both Democrats and independents favor the current policy, under which transgender people may serve (at least until the Trump administration’s ban is implemented). Fifty-seven percent of Republicans oppose transgender service, while 37% support it.

“Americans support allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. military by a margin of more than two to one,” PRRI Research Director Dan Cox said in a statement. “Even if President Trump’s recent order is out of step with the country, because of strong partisan divides on this issue, it nevertheless resonates with his party.”

Other findings from the poll are that two-thirds of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while only 28% oppose it. Even a majority (55%) of seniors support marriage equality. Americans even more strongly support the idea of passing legislation that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, with 72% supporting such laws.

On transgender issues, the public is slightly more split, with only 50% saying they oppose laws that restrict transgender people to using bathrooms that match their biological sex at birth. 

Lastly, 68% of Americans say they oppose allowing adoption agencies that receive federal funding to refuse to place children with same-sex parents, while 28% say they support such a policy, known as a “conscience clause” exemption. However, the percentage of people supporting the right of private adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples increases to 44% when the agency in question is not receiving federal funds. 

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com