Poll: By Large Margin, Americans Support Religious Opt-Out for Gay Wedding Participation

Guy Benson
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Posted: Jul 21, 2015 2:20 PM
Poll: By Large Margin, Americans Support Religious Opt-Out for Gay Wedding Participation

In the wake of last month's Supreme Court ruling establishing same-sex marriage as a nationwide constitutional right, critics and supporters of the decision alike wondered what the future might hold for Americans of faith whose objections to such unions were unswayed by the judicial outcome.  Will Evangelical photographers, Muslim florists, and Catholic bakers be coerced into serving gay weddings, or will they be sued and harassed into dust by the Left's highly-choreographed pro-"tolerance" enforcement squad?  Early indicators are mixed, so expect a lot more litigation on this front in the coming years, including lawsuits against churches and religious charities.  As these battles take shape, the American people -- whose support for gay marriage has swelled to historic highs in numerous polls -- appear poised to come down on the side of religious liberties.  The punitive orthodoxy enforcement mob is a loud and influential minority, according to a new poll from the Associated Press:

The Supreme Court's ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide has left Americans sharply divided, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that suggests support for gay unions may be down slightly from earlier this year. The poll also found a near-even split over whether local officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with 47 percent saying that should be the case and 49 percent say they should be exempt. Overall, if there's a conflict, a majority of those questioned think religious liberties should win out over gay rights, according to the poll. While 39 percent said it's more important for the government to protect gay rights, 56 percent said protection of religious liberties should take precedence. The poll was conducted July 9 to July 13, less than three weeks after the Supreme Court ruled states cannot ban same-sex marriage. According to the poll, 42 percent support same-sex marriage and 40 percent oppose it. The percentage saying they favor legal same-sex marriage in their state was down slightly from the 48 percent who said so in an April poll. In January, 44 percent were in favor. Asked specifically about the Supreme Court ruling, 39 percent said they approve and 41 percent said they disapprove...59 percent of the poll respondents said wedding-related businesses with religious objections should be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples. That compares with 52 percent in April. Also, 46 percent said businesses more generally should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, while 51 percent said that should not be allowed.

Lots to unpack here: Since SCOTUS' controversial 5-4 decision, support for same-sex marriage has slumped to a very thin plurality in this series, with a similarly close plurality disapproving of the Court's action.  This conflicts with other polling showing a steady upward trajectory in public approval of gay marriage.  (A backlash against perceived judicial activism, perhaps?)  The survey also suggests that framing related fights through a religious liberty prism is politically savvy, in addition to being right on the merits.  By a nearly 20-point margin, Americans say that when the brand new constitutional right to gay marriage comes into conflict with the bedrock First Amendment principles of free exercise and free speech, the latter categories deserve more weight.  Roughly six in ten respondents say businesspeople who serve the wedding industry ought to be allowed to opt out if their deeply held beliefs run counter to participating in a gay wedding.  As was the case in a previous AP poll, the split is much sharper on the question of whether government officials should be allowed to decline to issue marriage licenses on religious grounds.  People seem less willing to grant waivers to agents of the state, whose taxpayer-funded jobs require carrying out the and enforcing the law.  I'm inclined to agree, although isn't it interesting how many on the Left will hunt down and destroy any local county clerk who objects to presiding over gay marriages ("enforce the law of the land"), while adamantly defending so-called sanctuary cities ("don't enforce the law of the land").  A slim majority of respondents say businesses should not be allowed to generally deny service to gay patrons as a matter of course, though an almost shockingly large minority disagrees.  There is a libertarian argument to be made that private businesses ought to be permitted to refuse service to anyone for any reason, and that market forces can react accordingly.  This is politically untenable, of course, to say nothing of the entrenched, immoral discrimination such an attitude would have preserved at various points in our history.

In our book, End of Discussion, Mary Katharine and I (same-sex marriage supporters) argue for a paradigm of authentic coexistence on these questions, in which gay marriage supporters and opponents agree to something of a "live and let live" truce.  Supporters of traditional marriage would respect the consequences of the Court's ruling, even in intense disagreement, while gay marriage advocates would enjoy these new rights, without seeking to exact vengeance on opponents.  Practically speaking, this would entail broad protections for religious institutions, and more limited carve-outs for small businesses within the wedding industry. Committed activists on this issue seem to find this outcome unsatisfactory, unfortunately, which is why Americans should brace for a protracted and ugly struggle moving forward.  Defenders of religious liberty will face powerful corporate, media and political forces as these battles unfold.  They would be well served to highlight cases like this one, appealing to the majority of Americans who aren't on board with the new regime of mandatory celebration, and eschewing some of the apocalyptic language against same-sex marriage that most Americans reject.  I'll leave you with the latest skirmish from a separate front of the culture wars:


Here we have Scott Walker responding to Hillary Clinton's condemnation of Wisconsin's new late-term abortion ban, which bars elective abortions in the 6th month of pregnancy and beyond.  Such common-sense, humane restrictions are widely supported by the public (especially by women), and mirror similar laws in place across most of the civilized world.  Democrats' commitment to taxpayer-funded infanticide-on-demand runs so deep, however, that Hillary Clinton felt compelled to personally sign this attack tweet, denouncing Americans' views as "extreme and unacceptable."  Her public statement comes in the midst of a scandal engulfing abortion giant Planned Parenthood, whose officials have been caught on tape haggling over prices for aborted baby parts harvested during gruesome late-term abortions.  Hillary Clinton is perfectly comfortable with her big-dollar allies crushing viable babies' skulls and selling their internal organs.  Because the "extremists" must be stopped, you see.

Editor's Note: A version of this piece is cross-posted at HotAir.com