September 28, 2016

Key findings about Americans’ views on religious liberty and nondiscrimination

Recent national debates over contraception, same-sex marriage and transgender rights have highlighted the growing tension between protecting religious liberty and guaranteeing nondiscrimination. Conflicts have arisen over whether religious business owners and others must provide contraception to their employees and, separately, whether they should be made to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples. Americans also are grappling with the question of which public restrooms transgender people should use.

A new Pew Research Center survey that focuses on these themes finds the public closely divided over some – though not all – of these issues. Here are five key takeaways from the new poll:

1Americans are evenly divided (49% to 48%) over whether wedding-related businesses, such as caterers and florists, should be required to serve same-sex couples who want to marry, even if the owner of these establishments objects to homosexuality for religious reasons. But views on this vary considerably based on frequency of religious service attendance. Among those who attend church weekly or more, support for requiring businesses to serve same-sex couples drops to 31%, while among those who do not attend regularly, it rises to 56%.

2 Americans are also closely divided over whether transgender people should be able to use public restrooms that correspond to their current gender identity. Roughly half of all adults (51%) say transgender people should be able to use the restroom that matches the gender with which they currently identify, while 46% say they should be required to use the restroom of their birth gender. In addition, young adults – those ages 18-29 – are far more likely than their elders to take the position that transgender people should be allowed to use restrooms that correspond to their current gender identify.

3Two-thirds (67%) of Americans say employers should be required to provide birth control to employees through their health insurance plans, even if the business owner has religious objections to contraception. Weekly churchgoers, however, are more evenly split on this issue; about half (46%) say business owners should have a right to decline coverage of contraception based on religious beliefs.

4While many Americans believe abortion is immoral, only 4% of adults say that use of contraception is morally wrong. Even among Catholics who attend Mass weekly, only 13% agree with the Catholic Church’s teaching that contraception is sinful. A plurality (44%) of Americans express moral reservations about abortion, but about half express the view that abortion is either morally acceptable (19%) or not a moral issue (34%). About a third (35%) of Americans view homosexuality as morally wrong, but 17% see it as acceptable and 45% do not consider it a moral issue at all.

5 While most Americans do not know a transgender person, an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults do know someone who is gay. And nearly two-thirds of those who know a gay or lesbian person (64%) say homosexual behavior is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue, while about half (53%) of those who don’t know a gay or lesbian person feel this way.

Topics: Religion and Society, Health Care, Lifestyle, Marriage and Divorce, Health, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Social Values

  1. Photo of David Masci

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


  1. Anonymous11 months ago

    The Hobby Lobby objection to birth control wasn’t with the majority of the birth control methods, only the one which would abort a pregnancy if it had started, the so called “morning after” pill.

  2. Jon Drayna11 months ago

    Based on the headline I thought this was going to be about the important questions of our time on religious liberty, like making refugees pass a religious test to get asylum, or added police patrols in “Muslim neighborhoods.”

    Imagine my surprise when I saw Pew taking up potty talk and the wedding cake debate.

  3. Anonymous11 months ago

    I think this information broken down by state and/or locality, region of the country, would be helpful!

  4. Anonymous11 months ago

    When the Pew survey comes up with the figure of 51% agree that transgender people should be able to use public restrooms that correspond to their current gender identity it make me seriously question the validity of Pew’s survey process.

  5. Anonymous11 months ago

    If the store is the only one in town or in any nearby towns then they to serve them, then the customer has a right to a service provided to the public by a public business. Martin Luther King made this point decades ago. But if there are other businesses in the community they don’t have to on the basis of religious freedom. Why would someone insist other than to force them to accept their view and force the owner vto go against their view. Their right to be served would not be violated. So there is no right to force the owner to go against their beliefs. There would be room for diversity.

  6. Packard Day11 months ago

    Which of course, is why we live in a constitutional republic that safeguards the rights of minorities against the tyranny of a passionate, yet oftentimes too ill informed majority.