Majority oppose 'religious freedom' laws that could discriminate

Story highlights

  • Most Americans say businesses should not discriminate against same-sex weddings
  • Public opinion has shifted on the issue since last fall
  • Indiana passed and later changed its religious freedom law after public outcry

Washington (CNN)Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say that businesses that provide wedding-related services should be required to provide those services to same-sex couples in the same way they would all other customers, even if they have religious objections.

A new CNN/ORC poll finds 57% feel businesses such as caterers or florists should be required to serve gay or lesbian couples just as they would heterosexual couples, while 41% say they should be allowed to refuse service for religious reasons. That's a shift from a Pew Research Center poll conducted last fall, which found just 49% thought businesses ought to be required to serve same-sex couples while 47% that they should be allowed to refuse service on religious grounds.
Since the Pew poll last fall, Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law in late March by Republican governor Mike Pence, sparked a nationwide controversy over whether the law allowed wedding-related businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples. Apple, Walmart and the NCAA all spoke out against the law, while some states and cities with Democratic leaders barred spending public money in Indiana. Pence and other Indiana legislators insisted discrimination was not the law's intent and a bill to change the original law was signed in early April.
    In the CNN/ORC Poll, most Democrats (70%) and independents (60%) say wedding-related businesses should be required to provide services to same-sex couples as they would different-sex couples, while Republicans break broadly the other way, 67% say religious reasons are a valid justification for refusing service.
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    Looking at Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party, 60% in that group say wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse services to same-sex couples, but there are sharp divides within that group by age and ideology. Moderate and liberal Republicans and Republican-leaners broadly say wedding-related businesses should be required to serve all couples the same way (58%) while three-quarters of conservative Republicans favor allowing a caterer or florist to refuse service for religious reasons (74%). Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents under age 50, 56% say wedding-related businesses should be required to serve same-sex and different-sex couples the same way while among those age 50 or older, 72% think they should not be required to do so.
    Age differences hold across party lines, but the generation gap among Republicans and Republican-leaners is larger than that among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
    Overall, white evangelicals are broadly in favor of allowing businesses to refuse service for religious reasons - 62% say they should be able to. But among whites who are not evangelicals, 61% say such businesses should be required to provide services to all couples the same way.
    The shift from the Pew Center results comes across demographic lines. Men, women, whites, younger adults and senior citizens all are more apt than in the Pew poll to say wedding-related business should be required to serve same-sex couples as they do others.
    The CNN/ORC International poll was conducted by telephone, April 16-19, among a random national sample of 1,018 adult Americans. Results for the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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