Half of All Americans Think It’s Perfectly Fine for Businesses to Turn Away Gay Customers

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Gay customers can be turned away by Christian businesses, according to nearly half of all Americans.

A survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) revealed that 46 percent of respondents believe caterers, florists and other wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse to serve same-sex couples if it violates their religious beliefs.

In contrast, 48 percent said proprietors don’t have that right.

The survey of 2,008 adults was conducted between June 27 and July 8, just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop, which had refused to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.

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In June, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips.

The new findings indicate a tilt away from LGBT rights and toward so-called “religious freedom:” A 2017 survey found that only 41 percent of Americans said wedding-based businesses should be allowed to refuse service to LGBTQ people, while a majority (53 percent) said these businesses have to serve everyone.

White evangelical Protestants remained the strongest religious group to back wedding businesses (70 percent) and small businesses in general (61 percent) that want to reject gay and lesbian customers. Sadly, approval for discriminatory businesses rose significantly among blacks and Latinos: African-Americans’ support for Christian businesses rose from 36 percent in 2017 to 45 percent in 2018, while Latino support rose from 26 percent to 34 percent.

At the same time, 63 percent of black Americans said small businesses should “generally” be required to serve gay customers. But the line between what’s a wedding business or just a regular company offering a service has never been clear. Can a hotel reject a gay couple on their honeymoon? Or a country club turn away a lesbian who might get married?

“While support for same-sex marriage and broad rights for LGBT people continue to increase, opinions are less settled in specific areas such as religiously-based service refusals, especially in the context of wedding service providers,” said PRRI’s Robert P. Jones. According to the PRRI report marriage equality is now backed by 64 percent of Americans, versus just 55 percent in June 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges.

In June’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the high court avoided making a judgment on whether businesses can turn away gay customers,issuing a narrow ruling that baker Jack Phillips hadn’t received his due process from the state. In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote the issue “must await further elaboration.”

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“These disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Jones agreed the issue will come before the Supreme Court again, and suggested that right-wing nominee Brett Kavanaugh “could end up being the deciding vote.”

Do you think businesses have the right to turn away gay customers?