Poll: Majority of Americans Say Businesses Must Serve Gay Patrons

Not even religious beliefs should interfere, 58 percent of voters tell Quinnipiac.

A wedding cake for same-sex couples at a wedding celebration at The Abbey on July 1, 2013 in West Hollywood, California.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A majority of American voters say businesses should not be allowed to refuse services to gays and lesbians, even on the basis of religious beliefs, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday.

Coming a day before the Supreme Court hears marriage-equality arguments that could lead to nationwide legalization, the poll also found a majority of voters say same-sex marriage should be legal. 

Asked about businesses' right to refuse service, without mentioning religion, the poll found majorities of Democrats (88 percent) and Republicans (50 percent) in agreement that the practice should not be allowed. Overall, 69 percent of voters said they opposed it.

But when asked their view “if the business says homosexuality violates its owners' religious beliefs,” the parties diverged. Fifty-six percent of Republicans said the business should be allowed to refuse service in that case. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats, and 58 percent of voters overall, disagreed.

The question set off a firestorm in Indiana last month after Republican Governor Mike Pence signed a religious-freedom law that critics said would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Some defenders of such laws, including Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, say there is a difference between refusing service on the basis of sexual orientation and refusing to take part in a same-sex wedding. 

“I don't believe you can discriminate against people,” Rubio told NPR this month. “So I don't believe it's right for a florist to say, I'm not going to provide you flowers because you're gay. I think there's a difference between not providing services to a person because of their identity, who they are or who they love, and saying, I'm not going to participate in an event, a same-sex wedding, because that violates my religious beliefs. There's a distinction between those two things.”

On the question of whether same-sex marriage should be legal, 58 percent of voters overall, and 74 percent of Democrats, said yes. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans disagreed.

The poll reached 1,353 people by phone from April 16-21. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. 

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