Almost 60% of American Catholics oppose the idea that businesses should be allowed to discriminate against gay and lesbian people on religious grounds. That result comes from a recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which found Catholic opinion mirroring the country as a whole.
The findings come a year after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where it appeared to some observers that the court opened the door to legal discrimination against LGBTQ customers. A majority of justices sided with Masterpiece Cakeshop in their refusal, on 1st Amendment grounds, to provide a cake for a gay wedding reception, although they issued a narrow ruling that is unlikely to serve as precedent.
The survey, conducted in 2018, shows no statistically significant change from 2016, when data was last collected. In both surveys, close to 60% of Americans oppose service refusal on religious grounds.
The questions about religious refusals were part of PRRI’s larger survey of American Values, which showed that 71% of all Catholics support broad nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. That figure is the same for Mainline Protestants. 72% of Hispanic Catholics favor such protections. The only groups who polled higher than these were Unitarian/Universalists, New Age, Jewish, Hindu, Unaffiliated, and Buddhist, ranging respectively from 90% to 75%. Other nonwhite Catholics polled at 68%.
Catholic views do vary slightly by ethnic identity: while 55% of white Catholics oppose a right to discrimination, that number rises to 61% for Hispanic Catholics. 59% of other nonwhite Catholics oppose religious refusals.
Only 50% of Protestants overall oppose religious service refusals, although those numbers are heavily skewed by white evangelical Protestants. White evangelical Protestants are the least likely of any group surveyed to oppose religious service refusal, with slightly more than 1 in 3 expressing opposition.
Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims all poll between 60% and 70% disapproval of service refusals, while Unitarian Universalists have the highest overall disapproval rate at 83%.
New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo commented on the findings:
“The fact that a large majority of Catholics reject religious refusals should be a wake-up call to politicians who think that the U.S. bishops’ support of refusals and exemptions is indicative of the Catholic population. It is not.
“U.S. bishops should also take heed of these figures. As leaders, they are supposed to pay attention to the sensus fidelium, the sense of the faithful, on issues of faith. Catholic people oppose discrimination against LGBTQ people because they are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic. It is their Catholic belief in the dignity of all human beings and that all people should be treated equally which motivates their rejection of discriminatory actions like refusals. They do not want religion to be used to harm people.”
–Jonathan Nisly, New Ways Ministry, May 6, 2019