Center for American Progress

Scientific Opinion Poll: Small Business Owners Oppose Denying Services to LGBT Customers Based on Religious Beliefs
Press Release

Scientific Opinion Poll: Small Business Owners Oppose Denying Services to LGBT Customers Based on Religious Beliefs

New polling shows small business owners strongly believe they should not be able to refuse goods or services to LGBT individuals or deny services related to same-sex weddings based on owner’s religious beliefs

Washington, D.C. — A scientific opinion poll released today shows that small business owners strongly believe they should not be able to refuse goods or services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, individuals or to deny services related to a same-sex wedding based on an owner’s religious beliefs. A majority also supports enacting laws to protect LGBT individuals against discrimination in employment and public accommodations. Following the intense national debate surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the results show that small business owners oppose overly broad religious exemptions that could allow for anti-LGBT discrimination.

The poll was conducted April 16 to 24, 2015, by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of Small Business Majority, the Center for American Progress, and American Unity Fund. It found that two-thirds of small business owners say businesses should not be able to deny goods or services to someone who is LGBT based on the owner’s religious beliefs. When asked about wedding-related services, 55 percent say they do not believe a business owner should be allowed to deny services to a same-sex couple based on religious beliefs. In fact, 59 percent of small business owners who responded to the poll oppose laws allowing individuals, associations, or businesses to legally refuse service to anyone based on religious beliefs.

The survey responses crossed ideological and religious divides, with a plurality of small business owners—47 percent—who identified as Republican, 33 percent as Democrat, and 19 percent as independent. Survey participants reported varied faith traditions, as well, with 27 percent who regularly attend religious services. Out of those who identify as Christians, 25 percent identify as born-again or Evangelical Christian.

“Our customers are people from all types of backgrounds who are newly engaged and excited about their future,” said Michelle Payton, owner of the Bride’s Shoppe in Great Falls, Montana. “People in love are the people who keep us in business, so it makes good business sense to offer my services to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. Additionally, serving LGBT people is in line with our philosophy of helping all of our customers make their dreams come true.”

Roughly 30 U.S. states, as well as the federal government, currently lack explicit LGBT nondiscrimination protections in daily life. The poll shows that small business owners support enacting protections for LGBT people that would ensure everyone receives equal access to public accommodations and employment, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Six in 10 small business owners oppose firing or refusing to hire someone who is LGBT based on the owner’s religious beliefs, and 8 in 10 support a federal law to protect LGBT individuals against discrimination in public accommodations, such as restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that are open to the public.

“The topic of religious freedom and how it relates to business practices has been front and center in the media. And once again, small businesses are in the middle of the debate,” said John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. “As these results make clear, our nation’s biggest job creators support policies that are fair and inclusive to all customers and employees.”

“The results of this poll reinforce that business owners see little conflict between expressing their religious beliefs and supporting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections,” said Dr. Laura E. Durso, director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. “Treating LGBT workers and customers fairly is not only morally right, but also good for business, which is why it’s time for Congress to pass a comprehensive LGBT nondiscrimination act.”

“It’s not surprising that a majority of small business owners are opposed to any law that would allow discrimination against customers based solely on the fact that they are gay or transgender,” said Tyler Deaton, senior advisor at American Unity Fund. “The notion that they would single out and deny services to a certain group of customers is at odds with operating a successful business. Keeping the marketplace free from discrimination fosters job creation and a healthy economy. Any effort to demean any customer is just bad business.”

It’s important to note that respondents in the poll are largely made up of mom-and-pop type businesses, with 81 percent of respondents reporting that they have fewer than 10 employees. One-quarter of the respondents are owners in retail, retail services, or the service industry. The poll reflects a sample size of 500 small business owners across the country. The margin of error is +/- 4.38 percent.

For the full poll report, please click here.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert contact:

Tom Caiazza at [email protected] or 202.481.7141.
Kelsey Bye at [email protected] or 202.289.0957


About the Center for American Progress

The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just, and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. The Center’s research has served a pivotal role in the national discussion about comprehensive LGBT nondiscrimination protections, including the Center’s wide-ranging report “We The People: Why Congress and the U.S. States Must Pass Comprehensive LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections,” which remains the most in-depth and thorough examination of discrimination faced by LGBT Americans throughout daily life.

About American Unity Fund

The mission of American Unity Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, is freedom. We are dedicated to advancing the cause of freedom for LGBT Americans by making the conservative case that freedom truly means freedom for everyone.

About Small Business Majority

Small Business Majority is a national small business advocacy organization, founded and run by small business owners to focus on solving the biggest problems facing America’s 28 million small businesses today. We actively engage small business owners to drive smart public policy and get entrepreneurs the resources they need to thrive. We conduct extensive opinion and economic research and work with our rapidly growing network of 40,000 small business owners across the country to ensure their voices are an integral part of the public policy debate. Learn more about us on our website and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.