Religious refusal laws harm sexual minority mental health, study finds

Since the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, opponents have shifted their focus to whether individuals can deny services to same-sex couples, from issuing marriage licenses to baking wedding cakes. When the Supreme Court gives its ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. the Colorado Civil Rights Commission this summer, it could have widespread implications for the 12 states with laws permitting the denial of services to same-sex couples, or the 21 states with laws protecting sexual minorities from discrimination.

Now, a new study led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher has found that state laws permitting the denial of services to same-sex couples because of religious or moral beliefs harm the mental health of sexual minority adults in those states.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found these laws were associated with a 46 percent increase in the proportion of sexual minority adults experiencing mental distress.

"We are at a turning point with laws permitting the denial of services to same-sex couples in the United States," says lead author Julia Raifman, assistant professor of health law, policy & management at BUSPH. "This study provides evidence that laws permitting the denial of services to same-sex couples harm the health of sexual minority adults -- without benefiting the health of heterosexual adults."

The researchers used 2014-2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data on self-reported mental distress such as depression and stress among adults aged 18-64 years in three states that implemented these laws in 2015: Utah, Michigan, and North Carolina. Utah's Senate Bill 297 permitted government officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Michigan's House Bills 4188, 4189, and 4190 permitted adoption and child welfare agencies to refuse to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. North Carolina's Senate Bill 2 allowed magistrates to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, and in early 2016 North Carolina's House Bill 2 prohibited cities or counties from passing laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The researchers used six nearby, demographically similar states without such laws as controls: Idaho and Nevada for Utah, Ohio and Indiana for Michigan, and Virginia and Delaware for North Carolina. Read more via Science Daily