The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Religious freedom laws suffer another blow — in public opinion

Demonstrators gather at Monument Circle to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Governor Mike Pence, during a rally in Indianapolis March 28, 2015. More than 2,000 people gathered at the Indiana State Capital Saturday to protest Indiana’s newly signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act saying it would promote discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation. REUTERS/Nate Chute
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One of the apparent side effects of the religious freedom controversies in Indiana and (to a lesser extent) Arkansas: More Americans now oppose such laws than before.

While a Pew Research Center poll conducted in September showed Americans were split on whether businesses with religious objections should be able to refuse service to a gay wedding (with 47 percent in favor), and a January AP-GfK poll showed a clear majority (57 percent) thought they should be able to, a new CNN/Opinion Research poll suggests increasing skepticism of religious freedom laws.

The new poll shows just 41 percent think businesses should be able to refuse service to gay weddings, while 57 percent disagree.

Similarly, a Suffolk poll from earlier this month showed 58 percent opposed to such an exemption.

Now, we're dealing with four different polls here, but CNN helpfully uses the same question wording as Pew did, rendering a more direct comparison between the polls. Thus, the increase in opposition to such a religious freedom provision (from 49 percent to 57 percent) is more apparent and is outside the margin of error.

The shift from the AP-GfK poll, which was the most friendly to religious freedom laws, is a little harder to suss out. But we would argue that the question asked is quite similar.

Here are the questions:

Pew/CNN: "If a business provides wedding services, such as catering or flowers, should that business be allowed to refuse those services to same-sex couples for religious reasons, or be required to provide those services to same-sex couples as it would to all other customers"

AP-GfK: "In states where same-sex couples can be married legally, do you think that wedding-related businesses with religious objections should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, or not?"

Suffolk: "Do you support or oppose a law that would allow people to refuse to provide business services for a same-sex marriage if they had religious objections to such marriages?"

Defending such business protections might still play well in Republican audiences, but not among Democrats or independents. The CNN poll found 70 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents say businesses should be required to provide wedding services despite religious objections -- both slightly higher than in Pew’s poll before the Indiana controversy. But 67 percent of Republicans still support businesses having the freedom to refuse same-sex marriage clients -- a number that is hardly changed from the fall (68 percent).

Of course, the debate in Indiana wasn't strictly about gay weddings. Opponents cautioned that such a law could allow for businesses more generally to refuse service to gay couples. And polls show Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to that.

The fact that even the more-palatable idea of refusing services just to gay weddings appears to be falling out of favor is bad omen for religious freedom laws -- in case it wasn't already clear from what happened in Indiana that they were in trouble.

Scott Clement contributed to this post.