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Christians disagree with the religious right on refusing to serve LGBTQ people

New poll finds fewer Americans than ever support religiously based refusals to serve gay and lesbian people.

The Human Rights Campaign celebrates a ruling in a religious liberty case. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
The Human Rights Campaign celebrates a ruling in a religious liberty case. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

A new survey claims that more Americans than ever oppose allowing businesses to refuse products or services to gay and lesbian people if they claim doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Conservatives on the religious right have argued that allowing businesses to turn away LGBTQ people is an issue of “religious freedom,” and that such discrimination is their right.

But according to a PRRI study unveiled on Wednesday, 61 percent of the 40,000 people surveyed said they opposed letting businesses refuse to serve LGBTQ people by citing “religious beliefs,” with just 30 percent in favor. This is a shift from the survey results released by the organization last year, in which 59 percent opposed and 35 percent were in favor.

More notable changes in opinion from previous surveys showed up both along party lines and in religious groups. In 2015, PRRI found that a majority (55 percent) of Republicans favored allowing businesses to refuse service to gay or lesbian people on religious grounds. This year, that number dropped to just below half (49 percent).

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“At a time when Americans appear more divided than ever by partisanship and religion, there is increasing evidence that debates over LGBT rights have a short shelf life,” said PRRI research director Dan Cox in a press release the center released on Wednesday.

The ability to use religious liberty as a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people has been pushed by conservative politicians, including Vice President Mike Pence, who sat beside an anti-LGBTQ activist as he signed a “religious freedom” bill into law in Indiana when he was the state’s governor in 2015. The religious right held up businesses like the bakery that refused to sell a wedding cake to lesbian couple and the printing company that refused to print T-shirts for a Pride festival as victims of coercion whose First Amendment rights were being infringed upon.

Religious groups, however, often disagree with that notion. Several faith groups spoke out against Pence’s law (which has since been amended to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination) back in 2015, and hundreds of religious leaders publicly opposed a “religious liberty” executive order signed by President Donald Trump earlier this year.

The sense among religious groups that conservative definitions of “religious freedom” are flawed only increased over the past year, as shown in the survey. In 2015, the only two religious groups where a majority favored religion-based service refusals were Mormons and white evangelical Protestants. This year, however, the number of Mormons in favor of such refusals dropped from 58 to 42 percent, while the number of white evangelical Protestants in favor dropped from 56 to 50 percent. Almost every other religious group saw the percentage of people in favor of such refusals drop, and none saw it rise. This declining support for religion-based discrimination across the board, combined with 2016 being the first year that white evangelical Protestants didn’t have a majority in support, could suggest that the country is on the path toward a major change in public opinion.

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PRRI’s phrasing of the question didn’t mention bisexual or transgender people, although a smaller-scale survey they conducted earlier this year found that a majority of Americans opposed laws restricting which bathroom trans people could use.

Laws allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds are still being passed in different states. But with less than half of all Republicans supporting such laws and without even a majority in any religion supporting them, it’s increasingly unclear just who they’re for.

Annabel Thompson is an intern with ThinkProgress.