The latest poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has found a marked uptick in support for allowing religion to justify discrimination against same-sex couples. The findings were collected shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.
Though the ruling didn’t actually grant the right to discriminate to business owners, it may have helped shift public perceptions about the issue. Americans are now pretty evenly split, with 46 percent believing that religious business owners should be allowed to refuse service and 48 percent objecting to such discrimination. That’s a significant shift toward favoring discrimination from just a year ago, when the split was 41-53. The survey specifically asked about owners of weddings-based businesses, like bakeries, florists, and caterers.
Over the last year, pro-discrimination views notably increased among Republicans (67 percent to 73 percent), Black Americans (36 percent to 45 percent), and Hispanic Americans (26 percent to 34 percent). White evangelical Protestants remain the religious group most likely to support anti-gay discrimination (70 percent), while the groups most strongly opposed to discrimination remain Catholics and religiously unaffiliated Americans, with 58 percent of both groups objecting to religious refusals.
Despite this shift, support for laws protecting LGBTQ people has remained consistently strong, with 71 percent believing laws should prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. This suggests that people increasingly see religion as grounds for an exemption from following the law.
What’s ironic, however, is that at the same time more people believe discrimination should be allowed, fewer people actually believe discrimination is taking place. In 2018, 55 percent of Americans believe that gay and lesbian people experience a lot of discrimination, down from 68 percent just five years ago.
This decline appears to be largely impacted by Republicans. While Democrats’ perception of discrimination against LGBTQ people, Muslims, Jews, and women has remained or increased, there has been a precipitous drop in how many Republicans believe there is discrimination against any of those groups. Perhaps spurred by the rise of the #MeToo movement, 71 percent of Democrats now believe women experience a lot of discrimination, while only 14 percent of Republicans agree.
Republicans by and large have it wrong. Reports continue to come in of same-sex couples being denied service just because of their identity. Just last a week, a town clerk in New York refused to issue a same-sex couple a marriage license.
Likewise, the Trump administration has repeatedly rolled back protections for the LGBTQ community. The Department of Justice sided with the anti-gay baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop and has argued in other cases that employment discrimination against LGBTQ people should be legal.
Recognizing that discrimination is an ongoing problem, Yelp has even added an “Open to All” feature to its app, allowing businesses to distinguish themselves as nondiscriminatory and LGBTQ-friendly. It builds on a series of grassroots campaigns in which businesses posted “Open to All” signs to counter legislative efforts to legalize discrimination.
The poll does offer one promising result. As PRRI Research Director Dan Cox described it, “The debate over same-sex marriage in the U.S. is quickly coming to an end. The breadth of support for same-sex marriage is striking. Support has reached a tipping point among older Americans, and among young people it has become the consensus view.”
Unfortunately, support for marriage equality isn’t helpful if people are still willing to carve out exceptions for same-sex couples to still be treated differently or if they turn a blind eye when LGBTQ people experience discrimination.