How Religious Refusal Laws Are Harming Sexual Minorities

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Project HOPE




This week, in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the US Supreme Court was presented with the question of whether being denied any service demeans gay and lesbian populations. The Court avoided deciding on important constitutional questions, instead choosing to admonish the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for failing to provide the “religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.” The Court affirmed that service denials can result in “community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws that ensure equal access to goods, services, and public accommodations,” but permitted such stigma to persist in the 12 states that have service denial laws. New research demonstrates the ongoing harm to health associated with these laws.

Last month, one of us co-authored a new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, which examines the health implications of religious refusal laws that permit the denial of services to same-sex couples. The study indicates that there was a 46 percent increase in the proportion of sexual minority adults experiencing mental distress in states that implemented religious refusal laws. The research provides data underlining how dignity, and ultimately individual well-being and health, is harmed by the denial of services based on sexual orientation.

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