April 14, 2020 at 6:00 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Fewer Americans oppose religious-based refusal of service to LGBTQ people: poll
A new poll finds fewer Americans oppose religious-based refusal of service to LGBTQ people. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A new study on LGBTQ issues made public Tuesday has found a modest — but noticeable and sustained — drop over time in opposition to business owners being allowed to refuse services to LGBTQ people.

The study, conducted by the non-profit research organization PRRI, found 56 percent majority of Americans oppose allowing a small business owner in their state to refuse to provide products or services to LGBTQ people, if doing so violates the owner’s religious beliefs. Meanwhile, 37 percent of Americans support such denials of service to LGBTQ people.

Although a majority of Americans have opposed religious-based refusal of services for some time, the strength of that opposition — based on previous iterations of the survey — has fluctuated in the last five years.

Opposition rose slightly between 2015, when it was at 59 percent, and 2016, when it was at 61 percent, but that has since dropped each year and was 60 percent in 2017, 57 percent in 2018 and — as the most recent study found — 56 percent in 2019.

Further, the study found this decline is most pronounced among groups that have been the most opposed to refusing service to LGBTQ people historically.

For liberal Democrats, opposition decreased from 85 percent in 2016 to 78 percent in 2019; for liberal Republicans, 63 percent in 2016 to 51 percent in 2019; for younger adults under the age of 30, 70 percent in 2016 to 62 percent in 2019; and for white Democrats without a college degree, 76 percent in 2016 to 68 percent in 2019.

At the same time, the study found support for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections remains strong.

According to the study, 72 percent of Americans favor laws that would protect against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing, while 75 percent are opposed.

Support for non-discrimination protections includes majorities of both political parties, religious groups, and nearly every major demographic group, the study found.

“Support for LGBT rights continues to be strong and expansive in all 50 states. Issues that in the recent past demarcated major political and religious fault lines now find broad agreement,” PRRI CEO and Founder Robert Jones said in a statement. “However, this landmark survey also finds some erosion in opposition to allowing business owners to refuse to serve gay and lesbian people based on their religious beliefs.”

The study was conducted in both English and Spanish between Mar. 26, 2019 and Dec. 29, 2019 among a random sample of 40,357 U.S. adults ages 18 and up. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 0.6 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence, according to PRRI.

The timeframe for when the survey was conducted is the same time the U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The court determined the Colorado Civil Rights Commission harbored anti-religious bias in adjudicating the case against Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, and vacated the decision against him.

Anti-LGBTQ groups, most notable Alliance Defending Freedom, are continuing to make the case the First Amendment grants business owners to right to refuse wedding-related services to LGBTQ people.

A petition from Arlene’s Flowers, whose owner Baronelle Stutzman refused to provide custom-made floral arrangements for a same-sex marriage, is pending before the Supreme Court. Justices had declined to hear the case before, but have yet to act on the current petition before the court.

Despite the increase in opposition to religious-based refusal of services to LGBTQ people, the PRRI study had also promising findings for LGBTQ rights, including an upward trajectory in support for same-sex marriage.

One such finding: A majority of seniors in the United States for the first time ever in the United States are now in favor of same-sex marriage. A bare majority of Americans age 65 and older — 51 percent — now support marriage rights for same-sex couples, compared to 41 percent who oppose them, the study found.

The findings also confirmed majorities in all racial groups in the United States, including 58 percent of black Americans, support same-sex marriage, as well as most major religious groups. The exception is white evangelical Protestants, 41 percent of whom support same-sex marriage.

But views on same-sex marriage still vary along party lines, the study finds. Seven in ten Democrats and two-thirds of independents support same-sex marriage, compared to 47 percent of Republicans.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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