An increasing number of Americans—almost 50 percent—agree business owners should be allowed to refuse to service same-sex weddings if doing so violates their religious convictions. But respondents also overwhelmingly support LGBT nondiscrimination laws—the very laws that put Christian business owners on the defense.
The numbers don’t surprise two religious liberty advocates who, earlier this year, championed legislation in their respective states that would protect religious-affiliated foster and adoption care agencies from anti-discrimination lawsuits.
Three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who was sued for refusing to create a cake for a same-sex wedding because of his Biblical beliefs about marriage, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) polled about 2,000 Americans on their views about LGBT public accommodation laws. The Aug. 2 release of “Wedding Cakes, Same-sex Marriage, and the Future of LGBT Rights in America” revealed Americans have softened toward religious business owners and the predicament they face in the wake of legalized gay marriage.
“The law is a teacher,” said Paul Weber, president of the Family Policy Alliance in Colorado. “The public is naturally becoming more aware of the problems that business owners, ministries, and others face when LGBT groups push for special protections under the law.”
Still, Colorado lawmakers refused legislation that would protect the religious liberty of foster care and adoption agencies that only place children with heterosexual couples. Lawmakers used the state’s nondiscrimination law that LGBT activists said required Phillips to create a cake for a same-sex wedding to reject the legislation.
Legislators in Kansas and Oklahoma succeeded in passing protective measures. The PRRI survey may shed some light as to why.
When asked whether a wedding service provider should be allowed to refuse service to a same-sex wedding based on religious convictions, 46 percent of respondents said yes while 48 percent said no. In 2017, only 41 percent said yes.
The most significant swing in opinion came from African-Americans. Forty-five percent said business owners should not have to provide services for a same-sex wedding, up 9 percentage points from last year. Hispanic Americans had a similar change of heart from 26 percent to 34 percent.
“Honoring the conscience rights of people of faith is common sense,” Eric Teetsel, president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, told me. “As the stories of Christians in business working faithfully become known, Americans are persuaded to preserve a place for them in our society.”
Yet 71 percent of survey respondents favor protecting LGBT Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodation, down only slightly from the 2015 rate of 75 percent.
Americans seem to want it both ways: Allow business owners to operate according to their religious convictions and demand business owners not discriminate against LGBT persons. That reveals most Americans are “eager for peace in this particular culture war” Teetsel said. Passage of the Adoption Protections Act in Kansas proves “respectful disagreement” can benefit everyone, he said, but nondiscrimination laws serve only to stamp out faith: “This is becoming more and more clear as activists reject even the most reasonable protections, like those for ministries that exist to help orphans find a home.”