Metro Weekly

Survey shows majority of Americans oppose anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” laws

Almost no religious, political, or racial sub-group supports allowing business owners to turn away LGBTQ customers

A new survey indicates that a majority of Americans oppose so-called “religious freedom” laws, which enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

According to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute, 61% of Americans oppose allowing small business owners to refuse to provide products or services to gay and lesbian people if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. Only three in 10, or 30%, support such a policy.

The debate over the need for such exemptions has been renewed following the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the appeal of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple due to his opposition to same-sex marriage.

The issue has also come up in the course of discussion over Mississippi’s “religious freedom” law, which a federal appeals court has allowed to go into effect after it determined that the plaintiffs suing over the law had not suffered injury.

The law had previously been blocked by a federal judge who found that its provisions endorsing certain anti-LGBTQ religious beliefs violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

According to the PRRI survey, no religious group has a majority that favors allowing business owners to refuse service to LGBTQ people. Only 50% of white evangelical Protestants and 42% of Mormons — often the two most conservative groups whose leadership typically pushes for laws restricting LGBTQ rights — support a business owner turning away LGBTQ customers based on personal religious beliefs.

Support is even weaker among other historically socially conservative groups, with only 34% of Hispanic protestants, 25% of black Protestants, and 25% of Jehovah’s Witnesses supporting the exemptions. Only 30% of Catholics, 26% of Muslims, and 22% of Jews support exemptions.

Majorities of all racial and ethnic groups oppose religiously-based service refusals, with 60% of whites, 62% of Hispanics, 65% of Asian-American/Pacific Islanders, and 68% of black Americans opposing such policies. The number of white Americans, in particular, has dramatically increased from 2015, when only 55% opposed such exemptions.

While 49% of Republicans support such exemptions, only 17% of Democrats do. Independents largely mirror the general public. Among Republicans, 56% those who describe themselves as “conservative” support exemptions, while only about a third of “moderate” or “liberal” Republicans do.

Interestingly, only 82% of self-identified LGBTQ people say business owners should not be allowed to refuse goods or services to gays and lesbians based on their religious beliefs.

The attitudes and shifts from previous PRRI survey in favor of those opposing religious-based exemptions for business owners coincides with public perception that LGBTQ people still experience significant amounts of discrimination in their lives, and with shifts towards greater acceptance of same-sex marriage. According to the survey, 58% of Americans believe there is a substantial amount of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, while 37% don’t believe there is. Another 58% of Americans express support for same-sex marriage, while 32% oppose it.

“The PRRI study proves what Americans already know — using religion as a weapon to harm the LGBTQ community is wrong and completely out-of-touch with American values,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “Instead of pushing their dangerous agenda, President Trump and other anti-LGBTQ elected officials should listen to the people of this nation who know that promoting discrimination is the wrong side of history.”

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

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