It'd be great if we were all cool with minding our own business and not caring about other people's sex lives, but it doesn't seem like that'll be happening anytime soon. Amid a renewed debate about whether refusing service based on "religious freedom" counts as discrimination, a new study was recently released that says nearly 40 percent of Americans are OK with refusing service to interracial couples, based on surveys conducted in 2015. I'm not surprised, even though I'm disappointed that the percentage is as high as it is. The study, conducted by sociologists from Indiana University Bloomington, was published in journal Science Advances on Dec. 20.
Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 people about their attitudes toward gay and interracial couples by asking them how they felt about hypothetical couples being denied service by a wedding photographer. "We selected photography for these vignettes because it could be interpreted as a case of artistic expression and freedom of speech," the study says. The results are sobering. More than half of Americans said it was okay for a photographer to turn away a gay couple, and the numbers are even higher when people are asked about self-employed business owners.
One of the arguments frequently used when discussing service denial is religious freedom. A prominent example is the Masterpiece Bakeshop case which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month. In that case, a Coloradan baker says his Christian faith prevents him from baking cakes for gay weddings and garnered the support of the Trump administration.
The Indiana University study shows that the religious freedom argument may be irrelevant when we're talking about public opinion. While 47 percent of people were okay with denying service to couples for religious reasons, 45 percent of respondents supported refusing service to gay couples for non-religious reasons, which basically means that homophobia doesn't even have to be veiled for a good chunk of Americans. The same goes for interracial couples. People are okay with interracial couples being denied service whether it's based on religion or something else. If a self-employed photographer had a religious reason to turn away an interracial couple, nearly 60 percent of people would support the decision.
If someone says they support your marriage, you'd likely expect them to stand up and speak out against any discrimination you may face. Unfortunately, allies proved themselves pretty problematic in this survey. About 61 percent of survey respondents said they supported same-sex marriage, and 90 percent of people said they supported interracial marriage. Still, half of the people who are okay with gay marriage were also okay with refusal of service. The percentage was even higher for people who support interracial relationships — 56 percent of people who support interracial couples were okay with an interracial couple being turned away for religious reasons.
It's hard to know what causes the cognitive dissonance here. According to the study, "Some people supported the businesses’ right to refuse, although they disapproved of the refusal. This view was common among those who support same-sex marriage, who often assumed that customers would boycott discriminatory businesses. To them, the free market will penalize discriminatory businesses to the extent that they will either eventually provide services or be put out of business."
Even though I wasn't necessarily surprised by this study's results, the findings were still hard to read. I've dealt with nasty looks and underhanded comments because I'm Black and my husband looks white, but no one has ever been bold enough to refuse us service. If we'd been turned away while wedding planning, 2 in 5 Americans would've been okay with it. That's hard to swallow. When you're publicly in a relationship that is outside what most people consider the norm, whether it's being queer or dating someone from a different race, you are at at risk for discrimination. What's horrifying is just how many people don't see a problem with it.