February 25, 2014

Arizona bill sparks debate about religious objections to gay marriage

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Arizona, but the state has quickly become the center of a national debate surrounding the issue after its legislature passed a “religious freedom” bill last week. The measure, which Gov. Jan Brewer must decide by Friday whether to sign into law, would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs as a reason for denying services – including to same-sex couples – without fear of legal retribution.

Arizona is not alone. Several other states – including Kansas, Tennessee, Oregon, Idaho and South Dakota – have considered similar measures recently, with some bills mentioning marriage specifically. For instance, South Dakota’s bill – since rejected – said businesses would not be required to provide services “related to the…celebration of any marriage…if such action would cause any such person or personal business to violate the person’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

None of those states currently allow same-sex marriage, but legislators’ efforts may be preemptive. A growing percentage of Americans (72%, according to a May 2013 Pew Research survey) see legal recognition of same-sex marriage as “inevitable.”

Majorities in Most Religious Groups Say Same-Sex Marriage Would Violate Religious Beliefs

More than half of Americans (56%) say same-sex marriage would go against their religious beliefs, according to a survey we conducted in March 2013. But about half of those who say that same-sex marriage goes against their beliefs also say that gay couples should have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.

States that have legalized same-sex marriage often have included exemptions for religious groups and clergy who oppose it, and courts have interpreted the U.S. Constitution to include broad protections that allow religious groups not to participate in same-sex marriages. But, so far, exemptions have not been granted to businesses and religious business owners, some of which have faced lawsuits alleging discrimination.

One of these cases involves a New Mexico photographer, Elaine Huguenin, who for religious reasons refused a request by a lesbian couple to photograph their commitment ceremony. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled last year that Huguenin violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws and either had to start serving same-sex couples or close down; she has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case and is awaiting their answer. So far, courts in similar cases in other states also have sided with same-sex couples and against businesses.

Nearly a quarter of LGBT Americans (23%) say they have received poor service in a restaurant, hotel or other place of business because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Jay Chong3 years ago

    Its probably easier to narrow the scope of these laws. Instead of all businesses, it could be just photographers, clergy, bakers, or anything related to marriage ceremonies. That might solve the over breath problem. lawblog.legalmatch.com/2014/03/0…

  2. thomas3 years ago

    For all of you Bible lovers, the bible was created from all other books and religions. It wasn’t made by its self.

    1. Cyndi3 years ago

      Sounds like you are an expert. Just how do you validate this statement?

  3. Edison3 years ago

    Heterosexual marriage is a holy matter and is a product of lives, tradition and/or religion. on the other hand, however, the homosexual marriage is of lusts, flaws, and/or atheism. The earlier produce lives, sound environment, and devotions while the letter produce nothing except (as studied by Tim below) the judgement, hate, and bitterness. So, for our better world, we need to promote the heterosexual marriage and since the homosexual marriage is a flaw, we must try to find the way to cure it. Just imagine what will happen to us, if our own brothers or sisters commit the homosexual marriages. Will we allow them for the reason of human rights or non-discrimation?

    1. cytus3 years ago

      “homosexual marriages is a flaw” heterosexual marriages isn’t flawed?

  4. Dale3 years ago

    When I was young, eating meat on Friday would have violated my religious belief. However, it didn’t seem to matter in my religion if others chose to eat meat on Friday, and we didn’t see it as interfering with the practice of our religion. The survey simply indicates that people have different religious beliefs–which is a good thing. The debate seems to be about whether the practice of intolerance based upon religious beliefs is allowed in our society.

  5. Leslie3 years ago

    To say you have “sincerely held religious beliefs” that govern your work and use a business license as a license to discriminate against anyone is wrong. The range of “beliefs” espoused and promoted by religions across America would lead to “anything goes,” chaos in society.

    Baking a cake, arranging flowers and taking photographs have never been considered acts that marry any couple.

    These people want to draw attention, not to their work or business, but to their religion. There is no business license for that unless they are a church or church business.

    There is no exemption from law that makes all religious beliefs and behavior acceptable or required of customers, or the public.

    1. David3 years ago

      It’s not the same as inter-racial marriage and it’s not bigotry to oppose same sex marriage.

      Inter-racial marriage affirms marriage, same sex marriage attempts to redefine it… Bigotry is “unjust” discrimination, it is not unjust to point out that nature has discriminated…

      1. James Loughran3 years ago

        So, denying 1,300 rights and privileges to a minority of Americans citizens due to their innate characteristics is not bigotry, logic failure.

        1. guatmom3 years ago

          No, refusing to participate in a ceremony that violates one’s religious rights is not bigotry. It is the expression of religious beliefs. You may have the opportunity to be served by any business anywhere at any time, but it is incorrect to translate that as “the legal right” to same.

    2. Cyndi3 years ago

      That might make a little more sense if cakes and flowers were a Constitutionally guaranteed right and there were absolutely no other places to purchase them. This issue isn’t about being able to purchase what they want in order to celebrate; it’s about gay and lesbian couples wanting attention.

  6. Tim3 years ago

    I believe we all have inherent flaws. Whether towards alcohol, sex, drugs, compulsion, but to give one group an elite status because of these flaws. Blaming society, religion, and hate as the reason for their problems. I’ve noticed increasing power in the Gay and lesbian community almost to the Nazi level where if you say anything against them you are attacked mercilessly. I’ve studied this for years and found the judgement, hate, and bitterness are more predominant in these groups with an almost childlike attitude of entitlement than with more traditional, moral, mature cultures of experience and tradition.
    In the example of marriage, it has been historically between a man and a woman. To take a traditional institution and say it has to change to accommodate a perverse few, destroys the whole institution. Compare the issues of an alcoholic, almost all are the same as expressed in the gay and lesbian community. Is it going to be a policy now to make alcoholics, sex, or drug addicts into elite members of society, try to destroy faith and religion to accommodate their views and behaviors, indoctrinate children through media and educational institutions to elevate these flaws to a status of power and influence?
    Have we gotten so far away from common sense to say a behavior is comparable to race which one can be proven simply in DNA and the other cannot and most likely never will be? There are Psychological studies and proof of homosexual men being restored to normal healthy heterosexual lifestyles, but these findings are continually suppressed because it is a billion dollar industry.

    1. Terry3 years ago

      There are many states in the USA which have same sex-marriage, some of them for several years. One of those states is Iowa where I live. Neither in this state nor any other has there been presented credible evidence that same-sex marriage “destroys the whole institution.” Nor any evidence that heterosexual marriages have been weakened. I know many people in a traditional marriage, such as mine, and none have said gay marriage has anything whatsoever to do with their marriages. If you are married, Tim, does same-sex marriage threaten your marriage. If so, how? Please elaborate on the negative social effects you perceive.

    2. Kevin3 years ago

      Alongside Terry’s very thought out questions (in my opinion very well phrased in order to avoid you going “I told you so” about being attacked for your views) I’d like to agree with you on the fact that I also believe we all have our flaws, yours in particular including a comparison of non-heterosexual relationships to alcoholism (others tend to include pedophilia and bestiality).

      But assuming you are correct, and despite various religious beliefs towards the wrongness of alcohol, nobody (above an age limit) is denied access to alcohol. Why should non-heterosexual couples be denied equal privileges?

      I am personally completely against trying to find the DNA proof for sexual behaviour, it’s completely irrelevant to how we should treat each other. Someone’s ‘choice’ to differ from ‘traditional’ marriage is their own, but they should not be denied the (mainly economic) benefits offered by marriage. Nor should they be discriminated against. The benefit of a secular society is that faith and religion should play no role in policy making, to avoid the discrimination perpetuated by these institutions.

      As marriage long predates the christian faith, I really do not see how there should be any influence of christian values in regards to the lifestyle of (presumable) non-believers. Just like no one is forcing you to follow Buddhist beliefs (though that would likely have a positive impact overall)

    3. Patricia McCoy3 years ago

      No one acts more Nazi like and immature than the ongoing Christian fascist movements that are going on in the United States today. Marriage used to be polygamous or in some cases polyandrous, so your first point is invalid. Second, the same disgust, religious arguments, etc; used against Gay marriage were similar in nature to arguments used against interracial, especially black/white relationships 70 to 80 years ago. If Gays are Nazis and childlike for per suing their rights well, so we’re Black people and I say this as a Black Woman myself. No one is forcing you to marry a Gay person, but just as these people have a right to display themselves and their relationships out in the body of Americans, just as non-whites had to do against an equally hostile America those decades ago, I say that LGBT people must be protected. However, since Fundamentalists and Catholics are now doing their best to establish a theocracy based upon their beliefs regardless of the concept that the United States is not a theocracy, then progressives have got to be relentless at circumscribing their influence in society. My idea is to tax their churches, declare that their harassment of abortion, LGBT and contraception rights are not acts of protected speech, but rather cold blooded acts of terrorism wars of terror waged against U. S. citizens. These acts should be punished with harsh steep fines and federal imprisonment. So called gay repairative therapy has been proven as un effective and akin to brainwashing. This too should be outlawed. In short religious bigots can believe what they want, but better learn that trying to impose it on others will have swift, painful consequences.

    4. Allison3 years ago

      How dare you equate giving rights to people to the Nazis. How. Dare. You. You are simplifying the horrors of what the Nazis did to suit your own agenda. That was genocide, that was a holocaust. Do we have gays rounding up heterosexuals, beating them, working them to death, dehumanizing them and working yo remove them from the face of the earth? No. Go visit the holocaust museum in DC or even visit their website. That is what the Nazis did. People wanting the same rights as their fellow citizens is not in any way, shape, or form, to what the Nazis did. You disgrace the victims with your blase attitude. I don’t agree with you in the slightest and frankly would slap you if you said this to my face. However, you have the right to believe whatever you want. Your rights end when they infringe upon someone else’s rights.