What Does the Public Think About Businesses That Deny Services to Same-Sex and Interracial Couples?

December 20, 2017

Source: Science Advances

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a high-profile case regarding a same-sex couple in Colorado who were denied a wedding cake by a Denver-area baker. After the bakery refused to sell them a cake, the couple filed a complaint with Colorado’s civil rights commission. Although Colorado law prohibits discrimination by sexual orientation, the baker’s legal defense argued during the Supreme Court hearing that “the state should not be able to force him to endorse same-sex marriage in violation of his religious principles.”

A new study by RSF visiting scholar Brian Powell (Indiana University), co-authored with Landon Schnabel and Lauren Apgar and published today in Science Advances, investigates public opinion on the denial of services to same-sex and interracial couples. Based on a nationally representative survey of over 2,000 people, the study finds that the majority of individuals who support businesses denying services to interracial or same-sex couples don’t necessarily see such acts as matters of religious freedom, contrary to what the recent Supreme Court case suggests. Instead, respondents were just as likely to support a business that denied service to same-sex couples for reasons unrelated to religion.

“From the perspective of the public, the debate about denial of services is not about religious freedom.  It is not about freedom of speech.  And it is not about freedom of artistic expression,” says Powell. “Instead the debate is about whether businesses should have the right to deny services to anyone they want to or, instead, if business should treat same-sex couples and interracial couples in the same way that they would treat everyone else.”

In Powell’s study, respondents were presented with fictional scenarios in which a wedding photographer, either self-employed or working for a chain, refused to take photos for either an interracial couple or a same-sex couple. A little more than half of the respondents said they supported the refusal of services to a gay couple. Surprisingly, nearly 40 percent of respondents also supported businesses denying services to interracial couples, despite racial discrimination being prohibited by law.

The study also found that respondents were much more likely to support a business denying services to same-sex or interracial couples when that business was a self-employed individual, as opposed to a corporation or chain store. “Several recent Supreme Court decisions seem to equate corporations with persons,” says Powell. “The public rejects this equation.”

Read the full report in Science Advances.

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