Religious Exemptions Increase Discrimination toward Same-Sex Couples: Evidence from Masterpiece Cakeshop

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In 2018, the Supreme Court decided Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in favor of a baker who refused service to a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. This article examines the behavioral effect of this decision in an experiment that measured discrimination toward same-sex couples from 1,155 wedding businesses shortly before and after Masterpiece. I find that Masterpiece significantly reduced the willingness to serve same-sex couples as compared with opposite-sex couples, even among previously willing vendors. Considering the variety of vendors involved in a typical wedding, I estimate the odds that same-sex couples would experience discrimination after Masterpiece to be between 61 percent and 85 percent. These results show that even a narrowly construed exemption can have a significant and robust, even if inadvertent, impact on a market and its customers. I discuss the implications of these results for research on Supreme Court effects on the public.

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