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Landon Schnabel

Research Findings

What the public thinks about denial of service to same-sex

February 25, 2018

The Supreme Court is hearing a case—Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission—about whether a business can refuse service to a gay couple for religious reasons. But is this case really about religious liberty, or is it about something else?

In a national survey experiment with Brian Powell and Lauren Apgar, we asked Americans what they thought about denial of services. What they said surprised us.

We presented people with a vignette—or short scenario—in which a gay or interracial couple attempted to purchase wedding invitation portraits and was refused service. These vignettes varied the reason for refusal (religious/nonreligious) and the type of business refusing services (individual/corporation). We then asked our respondents to tell us whether they supported the refusal.

We expected religion reasons for refusal to be key in whether Americans supported refusal. But, surprisingly, people who support denial of service don’t see it as a matter of religious freedom. Americans were just as likely to support a business denying service for non-religious reasons as for religious reasons. In other words, religious freedom has no impact on Americans’ beliefs about denial of service.

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