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New report elucidates Americans’ thoughts on religious exemptions for anti-gay discrimination

Marriage equality

Third Way poll result

After marriage equality laws went into effect in Minnesota and Rhode Island, roughly a third of the American people live in states where same-sex couples can wed.

Yesterday, Third Way and the Human Rights Campaign released a national poll on Americans’ views surrounding marriage equality laws, non-discrimination measures and religious exemptions for business owners who oppose homosexuality.  As Third Way’s press release puts it, the poll’s results are clear:

  • Americans know that our laws and Constitution already robustly protect religious liberty, and they do not think marriage or non-discrimination laws threaten religious beliefs or practices.
  • Voters oppose new proposals which would allow government employees, businesses, or individuals who oppose marriage on religious grounds to deny services to gay people or couples.
  • When it comes to religious exemptions, voters are clear that they should be limited to places like churches and synagogues and people like pastors, priests, and rabbis.

Two big data points from the poll are worth noting in some detail. First, in just the last four years, Americans’ views in response to the question ‘do you think gay couples want to join the institution or marriage or change it?’ have changed remarkably.  In 2009, 50 percent of Americans answered ‘join’ while 41 percent answered ‘change.’  This year, 58 percent answered ‘join’ and only 27 percent answered ‘change.’

Just as importantly, when it comes to approving new legislative effects to extend equal marriage rights to same-sex couples, legislators should note that most Americans oppose the idea of passing new laws or exemptions to allow discrimination against couples based on individuals’ religious beliefs.  In the poll, 67 percent agreed with the statement that “our laws already strike the right balance when it comes to religious liberty and small business, and we should not change that.”

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