March 30, 2015

Americans split over whether businesses must serve same-sex couples

Businesses, Same-Sex CouplesA new Indiana religious freedom law has sparked national debate since Gov. Mike Pence signed it last week. While its supporters say it strengthens protection of religious liberty, critics have argued that it could provide legal cover for businesses to discriminate, such as a florist or caterer who may not want to provide services for a same-sex wedding because of religious objections.

Several such cases already have been making their way through the courts, including one involving a bakery in Oregon. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from New Mexico photographers who were found guilty of discrimination after refusing to shoot a commitment ceremony for two women.

A Pew Research Center survey last year found a U.S. public divided over these types of issues. The survey asked Americans whether businesses that provide wedding services should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds, or whether they should be required to provide services. Roughly equal shares of U.S. adults answered the question each way, with 49% saying businesses should be required to serve same-sex weddings, and 47% saying businesses should be permitted to refuse service due to religious objections.

Whites (52%) are more likely than either blacks (36%) or Hispanics (35%) to say that businesses should be allowed to refuse services for same-sex weddings for religious reasons. There also is a significant generation gap on this issue. Most Americans ages 65 and older (60%) say that wedding-related businesses should be able to decline to provide services for same-sex weddings, while most adults under the age of 30 (62%) take the opposite view, saying that businesses should be required to provide services for same-sex weddings.

Wedding-Related Businesses, Same-Sex WeddingsMajor U.S. religious groups also disagree. A strong majority of white evangelical Protestants (71%) support businesses’ right to refuse service on religious grounds, while majorities of black Protestants (59%), Catholics (57%) and people with no religious affiliation (61%) say that wedding-related businesses should be required to serve all customers.

Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats to say that businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples (68% vs. 33%), with political independents in between the two parties (45%).

Indiana, where a court ruling made same-sex marriage legal last year, is not the only state to grapple with this issue. In fact, it is not the only state with such a law. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (via The Washington Post), Indiana is the 20th state – in addition to the federal government – to enact a similar Religious Freedom Restoration Act, although there is some debate about whether Indiana’s law is slightly different (and perhaps designed to apply more to businesses).

Arkansas may soon enact a similar law. Same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Arkansas, but the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments April 28 in a case that has the potential to bring gay marriage to all 50 states.

Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Economic and Business News, Church-State Law

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

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