Political Notes: Ahead of US Supreme Court ruling, study finds majority of Americans oppose LGBTQ discrimination

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday March 22, 2023
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The Public Religion Research Institute's 2022 American Values Atlas was released Thursday and finds a majority of Americans oppose LGBTQ discrimination. Image: Courtesy PRRI
The Public Religion Research Institute's 2022 American Values Atlas was released Thursday and finds a majority of Americans oppose LGBTQ discrimination. Image: Courtesy PRRI

With legal pundits widely expecting the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a ruling this year allowing businesses to refuse to serve LGBTQ customers, a nationwide survey continues to find that a vast majority of Americans oppose such discrimination.

In December, the justices heard oral arguments in the case 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis in which web designer Lorie Smith is challenging Colorado's public accommodations law. Citing her religious beliefs, Smith is seeking to be allowed to refuse to create wedding sites for same-sex couples.

While the court's focus is on whether Smith having to create same-sex wedding sites violates her right to free speech, a ruling in her favor is likely to open the door for religious-based discrimination against LGBTQ people. Yet nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) oppose allowing such refusals based on a person's religious beliefs.

The finding in the Public Religion Research Institute's 2022 American Values Atlas is similar to the survey's results in 2021. The annual national survey has been asking since 2015 if respondents think a small business owner in their state should be able to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people if doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

The results for 2022, released March 23, are based on a representative sample of 22,984 adults from all 50 states. The survey found that Democrats are more than twice as likely (86%) as Republicans to oppose religiously based refusals (41%).

Since 2015, however, Republican attitudes on religiously based refusals has remained flat (40%), while Democratic support for such refusals has grown significantly from that time (74%), indicating growing partisan polarization on the issue, noted the survey.

Meanwhile, the survey found that majorities of almost every major religious group oppose allowing religiously based service refusals, including more than 70% of Unitarian Universalists (88%), Hispanic Catholics (78%) and other Catholics of color (73%), Hindus (77%), Black Protestants (73%), Jews (73%), Muslims (73%), and Buddhists (73%). By contrast, just half of Orthodox Christians (51%) and Jehovah's Witnesses (50%), under half of Latter-day Saints (46%), and only 37% of white evangelical Protestants oppose religiously based service refusals, according to the findings.

"Nationally, PRRI continues to find that most Americans broadly support LGBTQ rights in 2022," said Melissa Deckman, Ph.D., CEO of PRRI. "At the same time, partisan polarization is growing on some measures, including on religiously based refusals of service to LGBTQ Americans by business owners. The expansion of such differences between Democrats and Republicans is striking given the current political climate around issues involving LGBTQ rights and with the U.S. Supreme Court also set to issue a major ruling later this term on religious refusals by business owners."

The survey also found overwhelming public support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in jobs, public accommodations, and housing, with 8 in 10 favoring such laws. But again there is a partisan divide, with Democrats being significantly more likely to support such laws than Republicans, according to the survey.

Democrats (90%) and independents (82%), as well as two-thirds of Republicans (66%), favor nondiscrimination provisions for LGBTQ people. Since 2015, when the survey began asking about such laws, support has increased 12 percentage points among Democrats (78% to 90%) and nine percentage points among independents (73% to 82%). Support among Republicans has also increased at a slower rate, up by 5 percentage points (61% to 66%) since 2015.

And the survey also found that vast majorities of most major religious groups support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, including a majority of white evangelical Protestants (62%). Jehovah's Witnesses are the least likely to support such protections at 50%, while the survey also found that Hispanic Protestants were the only group where support has decreased since 2015.

Support for legal same-sex marriage also remains strong, with 68% of Americans in favor of allowing LGBTQ couples to wed. The finding matches that of the 2021 survey results; it is also an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014 when the survey began asking about the issue.

All religious groups have grown more accepting of same-sex marriage, according to the survey, although fewer than half of Hispanic Protestants, white evangelical Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses support same-sex marriage. Support for same-sex marriage has nearly doubled among Latter-day Saints from 2014 (27%) to 2022 (50%).

Additionally, the survey found that support for same-sex marriage is higher in those states where it is legal at the state level than in those where it would be banned if the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges establishing a right to same-sex marriage were to be overturned (75% vs. 65%, respectively). Some LGBTQ leaders fear the current conservative majority on the court could one day decide to just that based on its decision last year that did away with a national right to abortion.

Such a fear is behind the push in California to go back to the electorate next year and have voters overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that inserted into the state's constitution a provision that marriage is only between a man and a woman. State lawmakers are expected to approve this year placing a new measure on the November ballot in 2024 that would excise Prop 8's language from state codes.

In a positive sign for backers of such a constitutional amendment, the PPRI survey found support for same-sex marriage in California to be at 72%.

PRRI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts independent research on the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy. Its American Values Atlas national survey's margin of error is +/- 0.8 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

To download a copy of the full survey results, click here.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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