Several of the likely Republican presidential candidates have embraced Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But a front-page story in Wednesday’s Washington Post suggests the controversy over Indiana’s law has dragged the GOP “into the divisive culture wars”—to the detriment of the party’s 2016 efforts.
Here’s the Post:
The agreement among the likely GOP candidates illustrates the enduring power of social conservatives in early primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina, which will help determine who emerges as the party’s nominee next year.
But the position puts the Republican field out of step with a growing national consensus on gay rights, handing Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats a way to portray Republicans as intolerant and insensitive. Some Republicans also fear that Indiana is only the first in a series of brush fires that could engulf the party as it struggles to adapt to the nation’s rapidly changing demographics and social mores.
What follows are several Republican consultants offering their views on the issue, summed up by GOP pollster David Winston: “Could it be a decisive issue in people’s minds? It’s not clear at this point.”
What is clear is that there’s evidence the public isn’t completely sold on compelling religious business owners to participate in same-sex weddings. A recent Associated Press poll from February of this year found that 57 percent agreed with the idea that “wedding-related businesses with religious objections should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples.” Thirty-nine percent said those businesses should not be allowed to refuse service.
Another recent poll, from Pew, asks this question: “If a business provides wedding services, such as catering or flowers, should it be allowed to refused those services to same-sex couples for religious reasons, or required to provide those services as it would to all other customers?” The poll, conducted in September 2014, found 49 percent said those businesses should be required to provide those services, while 47 percent said they should be allowed to refuse them. More Republicans than Democrats say businesses should be allowed to refuse those specific wedding services (68 percent to 33 percent, respectively), but independent voters are more evenly split, with 45 percent supporting the ability for businesses to refuse.
And a Rasmussen poll from July 2013 found 85 percent of adults said a Christian wedding photographer should “have the right to say no” to shooting a same-sex wedding if he has “deeply held religious beliefs” opposing the practice.
The Post is right about a “growing national consensus” on gay rights and gay marriage—it’s moving toward general acceptance, and at a rapid pace. Gallup has found remarkable momentum on the question of gay marriage in just the last several years. In May 2009, 40 percent of Americans said they supported the government recognizing same-sex marriages as “valid” and “with the same rights as traditional marriages,” while 57 percent said they did not. In May 2014, the last time Gallup asked this same question, the numbers were nearly reverse: 55 percent said they thought gay marriages should be valid, while 42 percent said they did not.
Overall acceptance of gay relationships has moved even more so in the tolerant direction. Last year, Gallup found 66 percent of those polled thought such relationships should be legal, with just 30 percent saying they should not be. There’s been a steady upward trend on increasing acceptance of gay relationships since 2005.