In a striking rebuke of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, a new Pew poll reveals that a majority of Americans (67%) support employee access to contraception through workplace-provided insurance, even if the employer has a religious objection to providing such benefits. Thirty percent said employers should be free to exclude contraception coverage from their employee health plans.
At the same time, although same-sex couples can now marry in every state, Americans are still divided about whether those couples should be able to buy a wedding cake from any baker they wish.
According to the survey, 51% of respondents said that transgender people “should be allowed to use the public restrooms of the gender with which they currently identify.” Forty-nine percent of respondents said transgender people “should be required to use the public restrooms of the gender they were born into.”
Though Pew laudably took great care to consider how it worded issues of “religious liberty” vs. “discrimination” more broadly, the phrasing of this question frames the discussion of trans people in a way that privileges the conservative, transphobic perspective. The suggestion that transgender people only “currently identify” with a certain gender reinforces the idea that trans people, in particular, arbitrarily choose their gender, and may change it at any time. It’s not hard to see how that understanding of transgender identity leads to public officials (like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton) dismissing trans women as “men deciding one day they want to be women, and then switching back the next day.”
Ironically, the question itself alludes to the lack of understanding of trans identities that the survey later discusses by noting that a respondent knowing a transgender person has a substantial influence on their position on this issue.
Refusal of service to same-sex couples
Respondents were essentially even (49% to 48%) on whether providers of wedding services should be able to refuse those services to same-sex couples on religious grounds. It’s an interesting split, given that a clear majority of Americans have supported marriage equality since at least 2013, according to Pew.
It’s worth noting that Pew asked respondents about their feelings on these issues, but did not include information about the current state of law regarding religious-based service refusals. Despite the proliferation of “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRAs) in legislatures around the country, nearly every high-profile case of a faith-based refusal of service to a gay person has been decided in favor of the person who was denied service. In many of those cases, the refusal of service was illegal under existing state or city-level nondiscrimination policy, which generally requires businesses open to the public to serve all members of the public. However, there is no federal law that prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations.
It’s in the party not the pew
Interestingly, the Pew survey results suggest that “where the public stands on religious liberty vs. nondiscrimination,” has as much to do with political affiliation as it does with religious affiliation. Republicans were much more likely to oppose equal access to restrooms for trans people (67% to 30%), and more likely to say businesses should be allowed to refuse service to LGBT people — 71% in favor, compared to 26% against.
Those numbers were nearly inverted when looking at Democratic respondents. Just 30% said businesses should be able to refuse service to LGBT people (vs. 67% who disagreed), while 68% said trans people should be able to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity (27% were opposed).
In fact, when respondents were separated by religious affiliations, a majority of Catholic, Jewish, Black Protestant, and unaffiliated Americans said businesses should be required to serve everyone. White evangelicals were the only religious demographic to outstrip self-identified Republicans, with just 22% saying businesses should be required to serve the full public, vs. 77% who said businesses should be allowed to refuse service based on their religious beliefs.