Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

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:

Americans 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%.

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.

Two-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.

While 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.

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.