More Americans back right of businesses to refuse service to gay events

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Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips won a narrow ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

A recent, 2019 survey of over 40,000 Americans has found that support for forcing small businesses to perform certain services despite their religious objections has slipped.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization PRRI found that 56 percent of Americans last year were against allowing a small business owner in their state to refuse products or services to homosexual customers if the practice violated their religious beliefs.

However, this marks a five-percentage point drop from PRRI’s 2016 survey, when 61 percent of respondents said they opposed religiously based refusals to provide homosexual-themed services or products to customers. During this period, PRRI also found that Americans had become less likely to say they are strongly opposed to religiously based service refusals (33 percent in 2016 v. 25 percent in 2019).

“It kind of hit a critical point this year where we said this has been sliding 1 percent over the last few years. We are at a point now where it looks like it is a trend,” PRRI research director Natalie Jackson told the Bay Area Reporter. “It is not that society is reversing itself on this issue, just that on a very complex question we are seeing some slippage.”

As more and more states have adopted special protections for homosexual and transgender residents (Virginia on April 11 became the first Southern state to enact protections in employment and public accommodations), business owners have continued to refuse to provide some products and services on religious grounds. The U.S. Supreme Court has enabled such a tactic with its decisions in two recent federal lawsuits that sidestepped ruling on if such a religious exemption for business owners to LGBT nondiscrimination laws is constitutional.

It is widely expected the justices will have to weigh in on the matter as state courts have issued opposing rulings in cases related to the laws. In September the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that a business can — under certain circumstances — cite the business owner’s religious beliefs to claim an exemption from a city human rights ordinance.

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