BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that private businesses had the right to deny service to same-sex couples after a Colorado baker declined to make a cake for a gay wedding. The primary reasoning for this ruling stems from the religious freedom clause in the First Amendment. But a recent study reveals that while Americans are split on the issue, most believe smaller mom-and-pop business owners have the right to deny service, but corporations don’t.

In the first national study to take an experimental approach to analyze the public’s views on service refusal to sexual minorities, researchers at Indiana University found that most people who support these businesses are just as likely to support them for reasons other than religious agreement or freedom.

Lesbian couple
Americans are split between whether a business can deny service to certain people, but a recent study found those who are proponents of the law support it not only because they support religious freedom.

“The finding challenges the idea that denial of service to same-sex couples is all about religious freedom,” explains lead study author Brian Powell, a professor of sociology at the school, in a news release. “People may oppose same-sex marriage because of their beliefs, but their views about denial of service have nothing to do with whether the denial is for religious reasons.”

Two other findings in the study also piqued the research team’s interest. There was surprisingly strong support for businesses that refused to serve interracial couples. In fact, about 40% of the study’s more than 2,000 participants felt this way.

Yet interestingly, the study showed participants made a distinction between self-employed people running small businesses and large corporations. Powell says that many respondents took a libertarian viewpoint that celebrates the individual business owner’s rights to deny service to anyone at their discretion.

Respondents were twice as likely to support a small business that denied service than a large chain business. For example, 61 percent felt a self-employed photographer could refuse work for an interracial or LGBT couple, but just 31 percent felt a corporation could have the same authority. “Race is a protected category, and despite that, many people say you can deny service,” says Powell.

The full study was published Dec. 20, 2017 in the journal Science Advances.

About Ben Renner

Writer, editor, curator, and social media manager based in Denver, Colorado. View my writing at http://rennerb1.wixsite.com/benrenner.

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink


Chris Melore


Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor