Denying service to gays is unpopular even among faith groups, survey finds

Businesses refusing to serve gays and lesbians for religious reasons turns out to be an unpopular position even among most religious groups, according to a new survey by PRRI, a non-partisan research group specializing in faith and public policy issues.

The group found in a survey of 40,000 Americans that 61% of Americans oppose allowing businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians, though it has increasingly become a rallying cry of the religious right. The Supreme Court is still mulling whether to take the case of a Colorado baker who refuses on religious grounds to make cakes for same-sex couples.

But the new survey found not a single major U.S. religious group where a majority of members support denying service to same-sex couples. Fifty percent of white evangelical Protestants supported such service denial, but the numbers drop from there: 42% of Mormons, 34% of Hispanic Protestants, 25% of black Protestants and 25% of Jehovah's Witnesses believe businesses should be allowed to deny services to same-sex couples.

The finding is part of a major shift in views of same-sex marriage across the country, where support is growing especially among younger people of all faiths.

"Roughly six in ten (58%) Americans express support for same-sex marriage today, compared to 53% in 2015, a five-point increase," the group found. While 61% of white evangelical Protestants still oppose gay marriage, even that group is split by age, with 51% of evangelicals under the age of 30 saying they support gay marriage.

Evangelicals show "much more ambivalence" about denying service to gays and lesbians than they do about opposing gay marriage in general, said Robert P. Jones, the CEO of PRRI. In just one year, white evangelical Protestant support for service denials dropped from 56% in 2015 to 50% in 2016, which Jones noted is a dramatic shift. "Usually these things drop pretty slowly."

"One of the key things driving these changes are relationships," Jones said. "One of the strongest predictors of your views on same-sex marriage or anything on gay rights is whether you have a close friend or family member who is out as gay or lesbian." Those relationships tend to trump traditional church teachings on homosexuality, he said.