Religious Freedom: ‘The Good Wife’ (and polls) say we’re confused

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Religious Freedom
CBS The Good Wife April 5 episode scene of a gay couple at a bakery

On Sunday night, the hit CBS series “The Good Wife” explored the confusion over the American balance between religious freedom and the rights of LGBT men and women to equal access. In an episode that was torn from the headlines, viewers saw a whole series of scenarios involving a gay couple and various wedding-planning professionals. In this scene, the two men visit a “Christian” baker.

Twenty states have enacted laws similar to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Do you want your state to have a similar act?

How Americans answer that question depends on how it’s asked. Or, it might be that some Americans are confused. In a case of “torn from the headlines” TV, the hit CBS drama The Good Wife explored our national confusion about these issues in an hour-long episode Sunday night. News blogs immediately buzzed about the provocative episode. The Daily Beast described the show as “among the wildest cases of art imitating life in recent TV memory,” after the episode ended. The Huffington Post wrote that “the similarities were almost too eerie” when compared with recent news events.

On TV, the episode ended in ambiguity. Which legal value should win? Religious rights of merchants or the rights of all couples, including LGBT men and women, to equal access to local businesses. The Good Wife left readers to decide for themselves.

What do national surveys show us? As a population, we’re about as divided as the characters in the CBS drama.

In a national survey a few days ago, Rasmussen Reports asked a straightforward question about the issue: “Do you favor or oppose a law in your state that would allow businesses to refuse service to customers for religious reasons?” A majority of Americans (53%) oppose such a law, according to the poll. Just over a third of Americans (35%) favor it. The rest are unsure.

Then Rasmussen Reports asked another question, a more specific one. “Suppose a Christian wedding photographer has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage. If asked to work a same-sex wedding ceremony, should that wedding photographer have the right to say no?” Yes, said a large majority. Seven of ten (70%) said that the Christian wedding photographer should have the right to refuse service for religious reasons. Only 19% said no, with the remainder unsure. Opinions don’t vary much by gender or age.

The responses to these two questions mean that a sizable proportion of Americans oppose laws that permit religion-based refusal of service and they believe a wedding photographer should have the right to refuse service on religious grounds.

These responses might seem contradictory or confused. But, it illustrates a well-known principle: People can agree in general, but disagree on specifics. They can oppose a law that allows religion-based discrimination, but when faced with a concrete example, they can change their minds.

Do you support or oppose in general laws like Indiana’s?
What about the specific situation of the Christian wedding photographer?
Do you support or oppose the photographer’s right to refuse service for a same-sex wedding ceremony?

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  1. Kenneth Hinchcliffe says

    I believe the issue is with the specifics of the question and how it’s interpreted. I’m a gay man, a new reader to your site (I applaud your spirit of balance ) and if I were given that poll question I would say yes, the photographer has the right to refuse the job on religious or what ever reason they want. An independent photographers business is based on discrimimation, they specialize in Weddings, they don’t do portraits for example. It’s a stupid business decision to turn down a gay wedding. Everyone has the right to be stupid. However, if a gay couple were in line at a Starbucks, and when they got to the counter, does the Barrista, or even the manager of this public establismet have the same right to refuse service? Absolutely not. Equally specific scenarios and I come down on opposites sides . One is ASKING to enguage the SELECTIVE services of a provider, the other is UTILIZING the OPEN services of a provider.