More than Half of Survey Respondents Support a Refusal of Service

Newswise — Washington, DC--A recent study by Indiana University sociologists Brian Powell and Landon Schnabel, along with University of Texas-San Antonio sociologist Lauren Apgar, examines public views regarding the denial of services to same-sex and interracial couples.

In the study, people were presented with fictional scenarios in which a gay or interracial couple attempted to purchase wedding invitation portraits and was refused service. Respondents were then asked whether they believed that the photographer should be allowed to deny service to the couple. The researchers found that slightly more than half of the respondents (53%) said they supported the refusal of services to a gay couple. Nearly two-fifths (39%) agreed that the photographer should be allowed to deny services to interracial couples, despite such racial discrimination being prohibited by law.

These scenarios varied the reason for refusal (religious/nonreligious) and the type of business refusing services (individual/corporation).  Surprisingly, people who support denial of service don’t see it as a matter of religious freedom. Americans were just as likely to support a business denying service for non-religious reasons as for religious reasons. In other words, religious freedom has no impact on Americans’ beliefs about denial of service.

“From the perspective of the public, the debate about denial of services is not about religious freedom.  It is not about freedom of speech.  And it is not about freedom of artistic expression,” says Powell. “Instead the debate is about whether businesses should have the right to deny services to anyone they want to or, instead, whether businesses should be required to treat same-sex couples and interracial couples in the same way that they would treat everyone else.”

The study also found that respondents made a clear distinction between self-employed individuals and corporations. They were twice as likely to say a self-employed person could deny service as they were to support a business chain whose owners objected to serving same-sex or interracial couples. “Several recent Supreme Court decisions seem to equate corporations with persons,” says Powell. “The public rejects this equation.”

Contact Information:

Brian Powell

Professor, Department of Sociology, Indiana University

Phone: 812-360-0474

Email: [email protected]

Landon Schnabel

Doctoral student, Department of Sociology, Indiana University

Phone: 509-540-1410

Email: [email protected]

A summary of the study is available at “Freedom to Discriminate,” Contexts, Spring 2018,

The full article is available at “Denial of Service to Same-Sex and Interracial Couples: Evidence from a National Experiment,” Science Advances, 2017,


Journal Link: SAGE Journals