A new study finds that Americans are evenly divided on whether a business should be able to deny service to same-sex couples.
But the study from sociologists at the Indiana University Bloomington, also found that people who support denying service don’t necessarily see it as a matter of religious freedom. They are as likely to support a business that denies service for reasons unrelated to religion as one that does so because of religious beliefs, researchers discovered.
“The finding challenges the idea that denial of service to same-sex couples is all about religious freedom,” said Brian Powell, lead author of the study. “People may oppose same-sex marriage because of their beliefs, but their views about denial of service have nothing to do with whether the denial is for religious reasons.”
The study also found there was surprisingly strong support for the idea that businesses should be able to deny services to interracial couples, even though laws prohibit racial discrimination.
Respondents also made a clear distinction between self-employed individuals and corporations. They were twice as likely to say a self-employed person could deny service as they were to support a business chain whose owners objected to serving same-sex or interracial couples.
For the study, researchers asked a representative sample of more than 2,000 people to respond to vignettes in which a photographer refused to take wedding pictures.
In random versions of the vignette, the photographer was self-employed or worked for a chain business, the couple was same-sex or interracial, and the reason for denying service was religious or nonreligious.
Powell said it was striking that two in five respondents supported denying service to an interracial couple. Over half said a self-employed photographer should be able to refuse service to an interracial couple, while fewer than one-fourth said a corporation should be allowed to do so.
“Race is a protected category, and despite that, many people say you can deny service,” he said.
Also, while 61 percent of respondents said a self-employed photographer could deny service to a same-sex couple or interracial couple, only 31 percent said a corporation could deny service.
Powell noted the result suggests public views are not aligned with the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, which said that closely held corporations had the same rights as individuals to deny their employees contraceptive insurance coverage because of the owners’ religious objections.
“Americans don’t believe that,” he said. “They make a clear distinction between corporations and self-employed people.”
In the study, respondents didn’t favor religious reasons for denying service over other reasons. In open-ended questions, many took a libertarian view that a self-employed individual should be able to deny service to anyone for any reason, according to Powell.
In contrast, others viewed denial of service as discrimination and said businesses should serve everyone.
The study examines public views on the conflict between anti-discrimination laws and legal protections for speech and religion, a topic under debate by courts and legislatures. The Supreme Court heard recent arguments in a Colorado case in which a baker refused — on religious grounds — to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The court is expected to rule by June 2018.
The study was published in Science Advances, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Source: Indiana University