As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether business owners with religious objections should be allowed to refuse to serve LGBTQ customers, a majority of Americans — and a wide spectrum of religious denominations ― remain opposed to such faith-based service refusals.
Sixty percent of Americans oppose allowing a small-business owner in their state to refuse products or services to gay or lesbian people if doing so would violate the owner’s religious beliefs, according to the 2017 American Values Atlas, an annual survey from The Public Religion Research Institute. The survey of approximately 40,000 people in all 50 states, published on Tuesday, also found that Americans are increasingly supportive of LGBTQ rights almost three years since same-sex marriage was legalized across the United States.
Notably, most religious groups agreed that gay and lesbian people should not be discriminated against in the form of service-based refusals ― including black Protestants (65 percent), white mainline Protestants (60 percent), and white Catholics (59 percent). That objection was also strong among non-Christian groups, including Jews (70 percent) and Muslims (59 percent). Religiously-unaffiliated Americans, a growing demographic, strongly opposed the policy (72 percent).
The only groups that did believe that business owners should be allowed to refuse to serve gay or lesbian people on religious grounds were white evangelical Protestants and Mormons. Fifty-three percent of both groups sided with the religious business owners.
PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones said the survey results illustrate that most Americans think small businesses that are open to the public should serve all customers, regardless of the religious objections of the owners.
“White evangelical Protestants and Mormons — the only major religious groups who support these measures — are a clear minority, even among religious Americans,” Jones said in a statement. “While they may hold outsized political influence, combined they represent less than one in five Americans today.”
The Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case of a Colorado cake baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012. Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, an evangelical Christian, believes it is within his First Amendment rights to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, claim the baker is discriminating against them because of their sexual orientation.
President Donald Trump’s administration, which has formed close alliances with evangelical Christians, has issued an amicus brief in support of the baker.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in late spring.
The Trump administration has also attempted to undercut federal protections for LGBTQ people. In October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a directive telling executive branch agencies to accommodate religious liberty to the “greatest extent practicable and permitted by law.” Civil rights groups were alarmed by the move, saying that the language about religious liberty merely gave people with religious objections to same-sex relationships the “license to discriminate.”
According to the PRRI study, 70 percent of Americans were supportive of laws that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing. This support was robust among both Christian and non-Christian religious groups, including Jews (80 percent), religiously-unaffiliated Americans (79 percent), white Catholics (74 percent), white mainline Protestants (71 percent), Mormons (69 percent), black Protestants (65 percent), and white evangelical Protestants (54 percent).
After the Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, popular support increased dramatically, according to the PRRI study. In fact, the organization found that for the first time, a majority of all racial and ethnic groups now support same-sex marriage. Researchers documented double-digit increases in support among white (53 percent vs. 63 percent), black (41 percent vs. 52 percent), and Hispanic (51 percent vs. 61 percent) Americans between 2013 and 2017. Majorities of Asian-Pacific Islander Americans (72 percent) and Native Americans (56 percent) also expressed support for marriage equality.
Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, a queer, Latinx theologian based in Nashville, Tennessee, told HuffPost they believe that communities of color have become more comfortable talking about sexuality and same-sex desire.
“I think our communities of color are beginning to untangle the compulsory heteronormativity that has shaped our communities,” Henderson-Espinoza told HuffPost by email.
Most religious groups also support marriage equality, including white mainline Protestants (67 percent) and white Catholics (66 percent). Among non-Christian groups, the religiously unaffiliated (80 percent), Jews (77 percent), and a slim majority of Muslims (51 percent) supported same-sex marriage.
Support for marriage equality was lowest among white evangelical Protestants, with 34 percent supporting and 58 percent opposed. Mormons were also opposed to same-sex marriage, with 40 percent supporting it and 53 percent opposed.
However, change is apparent even among these groups. PRRI found that opposition to same-sex marriage dropped 13 percentage points among white evangelicals since 2013, and 15 percentage points among Mormons since 2014. Moreover, the study found that the younger generations within these conservative religious groups are becoming more supportive of same-sex marriage: Majorities of both young white evangelical Protestants and young Mormons now favor legalizing same-sex marriage (53 percent and 52 percent).
Leaders at Affirmation, an advocacy group for LGBTQ Mormons and their allies, said it was encouraged by the increasing acceptance shown by young Mormons.
“This trend of visibility among LGBT Mormons will only increase,” the group’s executive committee said in a statement.
Brandan Robertson, a queer Christian activist and senior pastor of California’s Missiongathering Christian Church, told HuffPost that younger evangelicals have grown up in a world where most of them know or know of LGBTQ people.
“Whether at work or school or seeing Adam Rippon on ‘Dancing With The Stars,’ it’s impossible to not see LGBT+ people and also see us as dignified, equal human beings,” Robertson wrote in an email.
“The power of proximity and the power of empathy are what change hearts and minds, and it’s clear that as the older evangelical establishment fades, there will be a much more grounded and inclusive wave of leaders coming behind them,” he added.