On October 30, 2017, Williams Institute scholars and major social science and legal experts on LGB law and policy filed an amici brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In this case, the Court will decide whether the Constitution insulates a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, in violation of Colorado law, on the basis of his religious beliefs.
The brief, written by Williams Institute scholars Ilan Meyer, Ph.D. and Adam Romero, J.D. with pro bono counsel from the law firm Paul Hastings, explains that when a bakery or other public accommodation refuses to serve LGB people, the experience is a prejudice event, a type of “minority stressor” that can have powerful tangible and symbolic negative effects on the health and well-being of the LGBT community.
The impact of this case goes well beyond its particular facts. If businesses are allowed to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation, LGB people may reasonably expect discrimination by other businesses and modify their behavior accordingly to hide their sexual orientation or avoid certain service providers. This expectation of discrimination can inhibit LGB people’s ability to fully participate in the public marketplace. Furthermore, the baker’s rejection of a same-sex couple amplifies social rejection and reiterates decades-old stigma and prejudice, harming the LGB person’s dignity. These symbolic effects are also accompanied by tangible disadvantages. The LGB person who is refused service faces an extra burden of finding an alternative provider, which adds to the stress of planning a wedding compared with heterosexual couples not affected by such discrimination.
According to a large body of public health and social science research, stigma-related minority stress experienced by LGB people has been linked to a disproportionately high prevalence of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, substance-use disorders, and suicidal ideation and attempts—many of which are two to three times greater among sexual minorities versus the heterosexual majority. Research has also shown that LGB people fare better in regions where social and legal conditions are more hospitable to them. These studies suggest that antidiscrimination laws that prohibit public accommodations from discriminating against LGB people help reduce minority stress and resultant health disparities.
The brief was joined by 43 scholars from around the country who have conducted extensive research on LGB people’s health and well-being.