Attitudes of American public on service denial to same-sex and interracial couples


Credit: Carla Schaffer/ AAAS

The first national survey of public attitudes on allowing businesses to deny service to same-sex couples reveals that Americans who support service refusal do so regardless of whether the denial is for religious or nonreligious reasons. Presently, legislatures and courts are debating whether businesses can deny services to same-sex couples for reasons that are religious. This issue has reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the upcoming case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Proponents of service-refusal contend that requiring a business to provide services undermines religious freedom–and, for some businesses, artistic expression and freedom of speech. Opponents respond that service-refusal to sexual minorities discriminates in the same way as service-refusal to racial minorities did in past. Yet little is known about public views on this issue. Brian and Powell and colleagues conducted an online survey of 2,035 individuals. Respondents saw one vignette about a same-sex couple or an interracial couple wanting an independent photographer or a photography chain to take their wedding photos — and being refused for religious or explicitly non-religious reasons. Over half (53%) of the respondents who got the gay vignette supported the right of refusal, with a much larger percentage supporting refusal if it was a self-employed photographer versus a chain, but whether the photographer cited religious or non-religious reasons did not matter. A notably high percentage (39%) also favored a right of refusal in the interracial couple vignette. The results suggest that support for service refusal extends to opinions beyond religious ones. Many of the respondents who supported the businesses' right to refuse services framed their support in terms of individual rights and libertarianism.


"Denial of service to same-sex and interracial couples: Evidence from a national survey experiment," by B. Powell; L. Schnabel; L. Apgar at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.

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