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African-Americans Are An Outlier On Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law

Opinions on Indiana’s new religious freedom law — which critics say would allow businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians — tend to divide demographic groups along the same lines as same-sex marriage.

We don’t yet have polling specifically on the Indiana law, which Gov. Mike Pence asked the legislature to change on Tuesday, but younger, less religious and Democratic-leaning Americans oppose allowing businesses to deny service to gay couples. Other Americans are split. But one group is an outlier: African-Americans.

A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found 39 percent of African-Americans supported same-sex marriage. Based on that number, we would expect only 42 percent of African-Americans to support laws requiring businesses to serve same-sex couples the same way they would opposite-sex couples.1

That’s not the case.


African-Americans are by far the largest outlier of any of the 15 demographic groups (people were sorted according to age, race, religion and party affiliation) studied, according to Pew Research. Overall, African-Americans’ views resemble those of young adults and nonreligious Americans: 61 percent of black respondents favored laws requiring businesses to serve same-sex couples.

If you set aside responses from African-Americans, 83 percent of the variation in support for laws requiring businesses to serve same-sex couples just like straight couples is explained by support for same-sex marriage. Including African-Americans drops the variation explained to just 52 percent.

Why are African-Americans so much more in favor of anti-discrimination laws than same-sex marriage? That’s hard to say, but there are at least two opposing demographic forces at work.

On the one hand, the fact that African-Americans are more likely to be religious also makes them more likely to oppose same-sex marriage. On the other — as Claire Gecewicz and Michael Lipka of Pew Research point out — African-Americans (perhaps based on their own history of being discriminated against) are more likely than white people to say that gay Americans face discrimination.

In the case of businesses serving gay customers, opposition to discrimination was stronger than the pull of religion.


  1. This is based on a linear regression on same-sex marriage support and Pew’s survey data on requiring wedding services to serve gay couples.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.