Most Americans Say Religion Is No Excuse for Anti-LGBTQ+ Discrimination: Survey

Minister with Pride flag pin
Minister with Pride flag pin

Large majorities of U.S. adults oppose denying medical care, employment, and other services to LGBTQ+ people based on the provider or employer’s religious beliefs, according to a new report from NORC at the University of Chicago and the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.

The report, released Thursday, comes amid attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in state legislatures across the nation and as the U.S. Supreme Court is about to rule in a case involving businesses’ faith-based refusals to serve LGBTQ+ customers.

The study found that 84 percent of respondents said medical professionals should not be able to deny care to an LGBTQ+ person based on their religious beliefs. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) opposed the denial of employment on this basis, and 71 percent opposed letting businesses refuse service.

The researchers saw opposition to discrimination across genders, racial and ethnic identities, religions, and political affiliations. Women, people of color, and Democrats were most likely to object to faith-based discrimination.

There was majority opposition to such discrimination among religiously observant respondents. Fifty-nine percent of people who frequently attend religious services said an employer’s religious beliefs do not justify denial of employment to LGBTQ+ people. “A large majority of all religiously affiliated respondents opposed denying services, medical care, and employment to LGBTQ people, including about two-thirds of individuals who identify as Catholic or Protestant/Christian,” notes a NORC/Williams Institute press release.

“Recent efforts by some state legislatures to expand religious exemptions from LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws are largely out of alignment with the views of most Americans,” said study author Christy Mallory, legal director at the Williams Institute, said in the release. “More than three in four Americans now favor civil rights laws protecting LGBTQ people against religiously motivated discrimination.”

“Our data show that the majority of U.S. adults oppose discrimination against LGBTQ individuals,” added Michelle Johns, senior research scientist at NORC. “And importantly, this opposition is consistent across political, religious, and racial and ethnic lines.”

Interviews for the study were conducted last September with U.S. adults aged 18 and over across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. There were a total of 1,003 interviews.

However, a survey conducted in March and April by the Pew Research Center, also released this week, found that a majority of respondents said businesses should have the right in certain cases to turn away LGBTQ+ customers based on the business owner’s religious beliefs.

Sixty percent said businesses should be able to refuse service if providing the service would signal support for LGBTQ+ causes they oppose, according to Pew; the question didn’t ask if it was OK to discriminate against LGBTQ+ customers in general. Thirty-eight percent said businesses should have to serve customers regardless.

White evangelical Protestants were most likely to support denial of services. Republicans were more likely than Democrats to take this position.

At issue in the Supreme Court case, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, is Colorado website designer Lorie Smith’s desire to refuse to create wedding websites for same-sex couples. She says that being forced by Colorado’s nondiscrimination law to serve same-sex couples would violate her rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech; the high court agreed to hear only the free speech claim. She has not been approached by any same-sex couple, but she wants to preemptively state that she will not serve them. The Supreme Court heard the case in December and will issue a ruling before its session ends this month.

In May, Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that critics say could possibly allow medical professionals to reject patients due to their beliefs.

Equality Florida has called the legislation a “right to discriminate” bill, and compared it to the infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in 2015.

“This bill is a broad license for health care providers and insurance companies to refuse services to people,” said Brandon Wolf, Equality Florida press secretary. “No one should be denied access to medical care. It gives health care providers and insurance companies an unprecedented ‘religious’ or ‘moral’ right to refuse to provide services. This puts patients in harm’s way, is antithetical to the job of health care providers, and puts the most vulnerable Floridians in danger. Our state should be in the business of increasing access to medical care, not giving providers and companies a sweeping carve out of nondiscrimination laws. Shame on the governor for putting Floridians’ health at risk to score cheap, political points.”