You probably haven’t missed the story of Masterpiece Cakeshop vs Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In 2012, Jack Philips, a baker in Colorado, refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.
Mr Phillips told David Mullins and Charlie Craig, who were looking for a wedding cake for their reception, that he wouldn’t bake a cake for them as this “message of support” for same-sex marriage would go against his faith. The couple said they were humiliated by this refusal to provide services, which the Colorado Civil Rights Commission say is discrimination against them on grounds of their sexual orientation.
It’s been a hot topic for some time, with all kinds of false equivalences being drawn.
One particularly vocal side of the argument says that “forcing” the baker to bake the cake would be going against his religious freedoms. It’s an argument that is seen a lot online whenever the case comes up. Not always eloquently.
But why are people really objecting to a man being asked to give a cake to a couple in love getting married? Is it really about religious freedom, or something else?
A new study, published in Science Advances, has tried to answer just that. Whilst conducting the study, they found out some pretty awkward truths about attitudes in the US.
The attitude survey, from Indiana University, asked participants whether it was OK for a photographer to refuse to take wedding photos in several different scenarios. In one, the couple he was being asked to photograph were gay, in another they were interracial.
The survey also included variables about the photographer’s motivation for refusing to photograph the wedding. The participants were either told he was refusing to service the wedding because he was religious, or that he wasn’t religious but he “did not approve” of gay and interracial marriage.
The participants were also given alternative facts about the photographer. One variable had the photographer working as a freelancer, the other had him as belonging to a corporation.
Of the 2,000 respondents, 61 percent said they supported gay marriage in general, whilst 90 percent supported interracial marriage.
Let’s get the depressing statistics out of the way first. Fifty-three percent of all respondents said refusing to photograph a gay wedding is acceptable. Meanwhile, 39 percent said that it was acceptable to refuse services to an interracial couple.
If the case truly was about religious expression, you would expect there to be a big difference in acceptability of refusal when the participants were told the photographer was religious or non-religious. However, when they broke down the stats, this wasn’t the case. In fact, there was just a 2 percent difference between the two scenarios (47 to 45 percent).
This suggests that whilst people may use religious beliefs and expression as grounds to support their argument, it isn’t the biggest factor. There was a much bigger difference, however, when it came to who the photographer was employed by. If the photographer was self-employed, 61 percent of people said it was acceptable for them to refuse service to gay or interracial couples, compared to 31 percent if they belonged to a corporation.
The researchers concluded that people were much more likely to support the denial of service on arguments of individual freedom, rather than on religious grounds. For people outraged by the idea that so many Americans support denial of service based on orientation and skin color, there is a bit of hope. Many people who supported right to refuse may have done so not because they are against gay and interracial marriage, but because they believe boycotting these places will lead to their demise anyway.
“Some people said that they thought the photographer’s behavior was really repugnant,” lead author Brian Powell told Verge. “Well, they used more colorful language than that and it was filled with profanities – but he had a right to do that and in turn, we have a right to boycott and protest.”
However, people who may have experienced discrimination were found to be against the photographer being able to refuse services. Black respondents were also much more likely to say that denial of service was unacceptable based on sexuality. This was even true of the proportion of black respondents who don’t themselves support gay marriage.
As you’d probably guess, Republicans were also more likely (at 65 percent) to think that it was acceptable to deny photography services to the couples than Democrats (30 percent). Powell’s next study will look at why people are in favor of denying services based on race and orientation in more detail.