Last week, the Supreme Court issued its decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis, ruling that a Christian website designer has the right to refuse services for same-sex weddings in Colorado. The majority argued that the designer’s “expressive” and “customized” services are protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment, so she cannot be compelled by the Colorado state government to provide services that defy her conscience or beliefs.
The case represents the latest battle between state governments seeking to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination and religious business owners, who are usually represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group. This case is particularly perplexing as it was entirely hypothetical — the plaintiff had never designed a website for a wedding up until the point of filing the lawsuit against the state of Colorado, and no gay couple had requested one or been turned away. It was all made up for the sake of challenging Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act.
When voters are asked about similar hypothetical scenarios, they overwhelmingly land on the side of nondiscrimination.
New Data for Progress polling finds that 65 percent of voters say businesses should not be allowed to turn away customers who are of a particular race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation because of the business owner's personal beliefs. This includes a majority of voters across age, race/ethnicity, and gender, and a plurality of Republicans (48 percent).
Similarly, 64 percent of voters say the right of individuals to be served by businesses, regardless of their race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation, is more important than the right of business owners to refuse service based on their conscience or religious beliefs (30 percent).
When specifically asked if a business owner should be able to refuse services for same-sex marriages, a majority of voters (52 percent) disagree, including 76 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Independents.
The majority opinion in 303 Creative argued a government should not be allowed to “coerce an individual to speak contrary to her beliefs on a significant issue of personal conviction, all in order to eliminate ideas that differ from its own.” However, the court did not stipulate the parameters of when free speech can be used as justification to deny customized services to members of a protected class. In addition to sexual orientation, Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, sex, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.
When asked about various hypothetical scenarios, more than 3 in 5 voters disagree that a business owner should be able to refuse services for interfaith marriages (63 percent), interracial marriages (67 percent), or a baby shower for an unwed mother (68 percent). The belief that business owners should be able to refuse services in these scenarios is driven by Republican voters, with more than 1 in 3 agreeing in each case.
The Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis opens the door for more business owners to contend that they have the right to refuse services based on their personal or religious beliefs because their services are customized and expressive. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called this a “new license to discriminate,” positing that it will threaten “to allow the exclusion of other groups from many services.” Previous Data for Progress polling found that fear of violence or harassment continues to prevent many LGBTQ+ adults, particularly those who are transgender, from being themselves, and that LGBTQ+ voters feel higher levels of dissatisfaction with their mental health, standard of living, and household income compared to cis, straight voters.
While the precedent set by this decision is alarmingly gray, the harms of discrimination are abundantly clear. And most voters do not believe one’s beliefs are justifiable means for discrimination against a member of a protected class.
Written by Rob Todaro (@robtodaro), the Communications Director at Data for Progress. Cross-posted from Data for Progress.