WASHINGTON – Most Americans support allowing businesses to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples on religious grounds, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this year. But another recent poll suggests Americans' sympathy for religious objectors may be limited to just that — wedding-related businesses.
The issue has become a topic for heated debate after critics of Indiana's recently adopted Religious Freedom Restoration Act charged that the law was intended to permit discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Here are five things to know about public opinion on religious beliefs and anti-gay discrimination.
SOLID SUPPORT FOR WEDDING-RELATED EXEMPTIONS
According to the recent AP-GfK poll, 57 percent of Americans think wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse services to gay and lesbian couples because of religious objections, while 39 percent think that should not be allowed.
That poll also found half of Americans think state and local officials who issue marriage licenses in states where it is legal for gay couples to marry should be exempt from issuing licenses to same-sex couples if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. Slightly fewer (46 percent) said they should still be required to issue them.
Another recent survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center in September of 2014, found Americans more closely divided, with 49 percent saying a business like a caterer or florist should be required to provide wedding services to same-sex couples and 47 percent saying the business should be allowed to refuse service for religious reasons.
LESS FOR OTHER SMALL BUSINESSES
Americans' support for refusing service, even on religious grounds, may not extend beyond weddings. A May 2014 Public Religion Research Institute survey that did not specifically mention wedding-related businesses found that only 16 percent of Americans said a small business owner should be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian individuals for religious reasons. Eight in 10 said the business should not be allowed to refuse service.
That was true even though 54 percent of Americans in the survey said they believed that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today.
MORE FAVOR GAY MARRIAGE
Support for a religious right to refuse wedding-related services isn't limited to gay marriage opponents. In the AP-GfK poll, Americans were more likely to say that same-sex marriage should be legal than that businesses should have to provide wedding-related services to gay and lesbian couples.
The survey showed 44 percent of Americans in favor and 39 percent opposed to laws in their own states allowing same-sex couples to legally marry. Thirty-seven percent of those who said they favored same sex marriage also said they think businesses should be allowed to refuse wedding-related services for religious reasons.
REPUBLICANS LARGELY UNITED
Nearly 8 in 10 Republicans think business owners should be allowed to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples for religious reasons, according to the AP-GfK poll. But Democrats are more evenly split, with 45 percent saying businesses should be allowed to refuse service and 53 percent saying that should not be allowed.
Independents were more likely to say that businesses should be allowed to refuse services than not, 49 percent to 39 percent.
A RELIGIOUS DIVIDE
In the AP-GfK poll, three quarters of evangelical Christians said wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, while non-evangelicals were more evenly divided. Eight in 10 evangelicals, but only 4 in 10 non-evangelicals, supported religious exemptions for officials who issue marriage licenses. The Pew survey found a similar divide.
Even the Public Religion Research Institute survey, which found lower support for a more general right to refuse service to gays and lesbians on religious grounds, found somewhat higher support among evangelical Protestants, at 26 percent.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com