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New Legislation Seeks to Balance LGBT Rights and Religious Freedom
Molly Igoe,
Topics: LGBTQ

A new bill that was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) aims to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination in housing, employment, education, and other public accommodations, while also allowing religious exemptions for organizations to act on their beliefs. Named the Fairness for All Act, the bill would allow religious organizations such as churches and schools to employ only those who align with their guidelines, along with prohibiting religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage from having their tax-exempt status revoked, and making it illegal for an employer to fire someone for being gay or for a landlord to make a tenant leave for being transgender.

PRRI’s 2019 survey, “America’s Growing Support for Transgender Rights,” shows that a majority of Americans (71%) favor laws that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. Support for these protections has remained steady from 2018 (69%) and 2017 (70%), although this question did not include carve-outs for religious organizations.

Data from “Americans Show Broad Support for LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections” further demonstrates that backing for LGBT nondiscrimination protections enjoys support across the political spectrum, with majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (70%), and Republicans (56%) in favor of these laws.

While PRRI has not asked a question specifically about the religious exemptions in the Fairness for All Act, a few related questions provide the general context of how Americans view exceptions to nondiscrimination protections. Majorities of Americans oppose religiously based service refusals by small business owners (57%); licensed professionals like doctors, lawyers, teachers, and social workers (67%); and adoption agencies who receive federal funding (60%). Majorities of Americans also say that wedding services like caterers, florists, and bakers should be required to provide the same services to same sex-couples as they would to all other couples (55%).

Democrats and independents are more likely to oppose religiously based service refusals than Republicans. While majorities of Democrats (73%) and independents (58%) oppose allowing small business owners to refuse services to LGBT individuals based on their religious beliefs, only 39% of Republicans oppose this. Similarly, while 70% of Democrats and 59% of independents say wedding service businesses should be required to provide the same services to LGBT individuals as they would with any other couple, only 36% of Republicans agree.

Although a majority of Americans still oppose these service refusals, PRRI’s “Increasing Support for Religiously Based Service Refusals” finds that support for religiously based service refusals has increased across virtually every demographic group since 2014, with three in ten (30%) Americans who say it should be permissible for a small business owner to refuse service to LGBT people if it violates their religious beliefs, up from 16% in 2014.