Poll: Is it discrimination to refuse to sell a wedding cake to an interracial couple due to one's religious beliefs?

Not a gay couple, please note, an interracial couple. YouGov *did* ask about gay couples too in its new survey, trying to gauge public reaction to the Supreme Court case of the Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. Who should prevail, asked YouGov, the Christian baker or the gay couple? Verdict: 57 percent side with the baker, 43 percent with the couple. And there were no dramatic demographic splits on that, interestingly. The only group that strongly favored the couple over the baker was Democrats, at 28/72. (People aged 30-44 and people who earn more than $100,000 also favored the couple, but only barely.) Nearly every other group — men, women, whites, blacks, Republicans, independents — are Team Baker. In fact, blacks and whites poll identically on their preferences at 57/43.

That’s a straightforward “Who do you hope wins?” question, though. When YouGov asked whether refusing to bake the cake for a gay couple due to religious opposition amounts to “discrimination,” the public split 40/40 with fully 20 percent not sure. Republicans and Democrats were polarized on that, but virtually every other other group was closely split and could only muster a plurality for its position. You can understand why. Some people will view the baker as seeking an exemption from, or accommodation with, antidiscrimination laws — which is to say, he is discriminating against the couple but he’s excused because he’s not doing so for reasons of animus. His faith simply tells him gay marriage is morally wrong. Others, though, will resist the idea that faith-based opposition to gay marriage amounts to “discrimination” in the first place. Discrimination is immoral but the baker is behaving morally, true to his religious convictions. Because people view the question differently, you’re going to get a larger “not sure” contingent and more cautious support for any single position.

But what about interracial couples? Democrats’ complaint throughout the Masterpiece Cakeshop saga has been that if you let a business owner cite religion to refuse service to one protected group, eventually other business owners will claim it to refuse service to other protected groups. A black couple or an interracial couple might be turned away by a racist business, creating a major faith-based loophole to the end of Jim Crow. Question from YouGov: Would that be discrimination?

A heavy majority of Democrats say yes but a solid majority of Republicans say no. If you support the gay couple in the Masterpiece case, you look at those GOP numbers and conclude that liberals are right to worry that a religious loophole might conceivably swallow antidiscrimination laws entirely. The counterargument is that believers see gay marriage as more religiously objectionable than interracial marriage because their religion … actually gives them reason to. Divine sanction for traditional marriage is easy to defend citing Scripture; divine opposition to racially mixed marriages is much harder (although people have tried, lord knows). The problem for SCOTUS in resolving the Masterpiece case is that it can’t delve into the Bible and render a judgment on which refusals of service are sincerely scripturally based and which aren’t. That would turn judges into theologians. If they rule for the baker, somehow they’re going to need to come up with a reason for why it’s okay to refuse service for a gay wedding but not okay to refuse service for an interracial wedding on religious grounds without getting into the religious nuts and bolts.

Or maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll rule for the baker, declare that people can refuse to cater interracial weddings on religious grounds too. and instruct courts to look only at whether a business owner’s religious belief in refusing service is sincerely held (which would give lower courts discretion to rule against business owners whom they suspect are using religion as cover for old-fashioned racial prejudice). It would be left to the market to take care of the rest: If your faith tells you you can’t serve an interracial wedding and the judge buys it, okay, but prepare for a boycott. If you scoff at the idea that market pressures will solve this problem, consider how many devout Christian business owners there are in the U.S. and how vanishingly few cases there have been of businesses turning gay couples away over wedding-related business. The market is already at work. Even if a SCOTUS ruling encourages more religious business owners to seek exemptions, this is still a country that increasingly accepts gay marriage and overwhelmingly accepts interracial marriage. And for those stuck living in places that look dimly on their marital relationship, good news: Jeff Bezos rules the world now. If you can get on the Internet, chances are you can get what you need delivered. Even a wedding cake.

Interestingly, while blacks split 39/37 on whether refusing to cater a gay wedding for religious reasons is discriminatory, they split 62/19 on whether it’d be discriminatory to refuse to cater an interracial wedding on religious grounds. That could be pure self-interest at work or it could be, as I said, that there’s simply more scriptural basis for the former than the latter. One last data point, though:

Not a single demographic group produced a majority that agrees that the baker that making the cake would be tantamount to endorsing, let alone participating in, a ceremony that offends his faith. If SCOTUS is looking to sidestep the analytical headache I described above, they could just follow the public’s lead here and decide, a la George Will, that a cake is food, not speech. “[T]he creator’s involvement with it ends when he sends it away to those who consume it.” They don’t need to reach the question of whether he enjoys a religious exemption from antidiscrimination laws that would require him to “participate” in a gay wedding because he’s not participating! He’s just making a cake. If and when the couple tries to use the law to force him to be their ring-bearer, then he can come back to court and complain about a religious exemption. Exit question: How would that logic apply to a wedding photographer who refuses to photograph a gay wedding? Is she “participating” when she shows up to the ceremony?