Even a Majority of Catholic Republicans Oppose Religious Exemptions

Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who attests that her religious beliefs exempt her issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, continues to put the issue of religious liberty in the headlines. And with Pope Francis scheduled to speak on religious freedom in Philadelphia next weekend, the issue will likely remain hotly debated. Our latest PRRI/RNS survey sheds some light on what American Catholics believe about religious liberty and treatment of gay and lesbian people.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Catholics oppose allowing small business owners in their state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs, while 28 percent favor such a policy. Political and racial/ethnic divisions exist on this question, as does frequency of church attendance.

There are stark differences among Catholics by political affiliation. While seven in ten Democratic Catholics (70 percent) and independent Catholics (70 percent) oppose religious-based service refusals of gay and lesbian people, Republican Catholics are more divided. Slightly more than half (51 percent) of Republican Catholics oppose allowing small business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers, while 46 percent say they should be allowed.

There are also racial and ethnic divisions among Catholics in their approach to the issue. Non-white Catholics—83 percent of whom identify as Hispanic—are more likely than white Catholics (72 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively) to oppose allowing small business owners to refuse services to gay or lesbian people for religious reasons.

And Catholics who attend religious services weekly or more (58 percent) are less likely to express opposition than those who attend less often (69 percent).