There have been several polls in recent months showing an increasing concern among Americans for religious liberty, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling. A new poll by Cadell and Associates shows the highest level of support yet for the Christian photographers, florists and other wedding professionals now being slapped with bankrupting fines by the government for refusing to cater gay weddings: 81 percent.
That is when asked:
Suppose a Christian wedding photographer has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage. If a same-sex couple wanted to hire that photographer for their wedding ceremony, should the photographer have the right to say no?
81 percent said “yes,” while only 10 percent said “no.” In fact, 72 percent of Democrats agreed, when the question is phrased this way, the wedding photographer should not be compelled by the government to perform the service (as did 83 percent of Independents and 93 percent of Republicans).
Why did this question produce virtual consensus on what is supposed to be the most “divisive” issue in American politics? The question is nested in a series of questions about government’s role towards religion and the rights of the individual. Other ways of phrasing the question (particularly those that pick up on the Democrats’ rejoinder that this is “discrimination” that cannot be tolerated) show lower but still majority support for the rights of the religious person to decide to serve or not serve a same-sex wedding.
Wonder why Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have started saying we can protect both religious liberty and prevent discrimination against gay people? Well, that’s where the great American middle is on this issue, according to the polling.
71 percent of Americans “believe there can be a common sense solution that both protects religious freedom and protects the gay and lesbian couples from discrimination,” including 71 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Independents, and 60 percent of Republicans. (Thirty percent of Republicans say it is not possible, however, compared to 15 percent of Democrats).
When forced to choose which is more important—protecting religious liberties, protecting gay rights, or protecting both—almost four times as many voters chose religious liberties over gay rights (30 percent to 8 percent), but the 53 percent majority stuck with “protecting both.”
Even among Democrats, almost twice as many said protecting religious liberty is more important (22 percent) than those who prioritized protecting gay rights (14 percent). Among Independents the balance is 23 percent for religious liberty and just 8 percent for protecting gay rights. The majority of Republicans (54 percent) chose protecting religious liberty over protecting both (39 percent), with less than 1 percent saying they would prioritize protecting gay rights.
When the question is framed as the right of an individual person to choose whether or not they will assist a gay wedding, Americans are almost unanimously in favor of liberty, including Independents and even Democrats. For the Democrats to win on this issue, they will have to succeed in controlling the narrative and persuading the Republicans to mute themselves for fear of being labelled anti-gay bigots, which of course, as Indiana shows, they have a very good record of doing.
Will leaders emerge who understand how to fight through that framing to put the face of the victim before the American public? Will candidates understand that this is a political opportunity as well as a moral necessity?
This we will find out as the campaign unfolds.
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at American Principles in Action.