LGBT Rights and Health Event Story

Professors Michael Ulrich and Julia Raifman sought to answer whether baking a cake constitutes as free speech in their discussion and analysis of the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission this past Tuesday afternoon.

The event, entitled “LGBT Rights and Health” and organized by Jessica Walsh, the Center Coordinator for the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights, attracted more than 150 people to the Keefer Auditorium at Boston University’s (BU) Medical Campus. The discussion additionally examined how United States laws have affected LGBT health.

The case involves the Colorado Masterpiece Cakeshop baker, Jack Phillips, and the same-sex couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig. In July 2012, the couple attempted to order a wedding cake from Masterpiece Bakery, but were refused by the owner, Phillips, after he asserted that selling them the cake served as a violation of his firmly held religious beliefs. Phillips offered to sell the couple a pre-made cake or to make them any other kind of baked good, but maintained that he couldn’t support same-sex marriage by baking the couple a cake, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Michael Ulrich, an assistant professor of health law, policy and management, began the discussion by offering the audience a broad understanding of the case, and continued by laying out the arguments on both sides.

“The big question here is, does baking a cake equal speech?” Ulrich said.

He then analyzed the arguments in favor of the baker and included that Phillips and his attorneys are establishing their case off the fact that cake is speech. Ulrich expressed that the argument also stems from the claim that Phillip’s refusal to sell the cake due to his religious beliefs was ultimately a form of speech itself.

Ulrich added that the best way for Phillips and his attorneys to bypass the opposing arguments is to firmly contend that cake is speech.

“Speech was the best way to do that,” Ulrich said. “There is a strong disfavor in allowing the government to compel speech from people, particularly speech that they do not agree with and they don’t believe in.”

Ulrich continued, explaining that one of the primary arguments in favor of the couple ultimately revealed that if cakes are considered free speech, then many other things can also be associated with free speech.

“That opens the door for people to say, ‘well I’m not going to provide my product or service to you because this violates my religious belief,’” Ulrich said.

Julia Raifman, an assistant professor of health law, policy and management, extended the discussion with a presentation on the relationship between LGBT rights and health.

Raifman spoke about the changes in LGBT rights over the past few years and how most of her research is based on the Fundamental Cause Theory. She went on to relate fundamental causes to structural stigma and later explained how they relate to LGBT mental health.

“Structural stigma [are] the social conditions, cultural norms, and especially the institutional policies and practices that can strain opportunities, resources and well being,” Raifman said.

Raifman included that these structural stigma, such as higher structural stigma at the state or national level, affect structural stigma at lower level institutions like schools, hospitals, and families and peers. This is what leads to health disparities in LGBT communities, according to Raifman.

She also presented studies that indicated the correlations between recent laws and their effects on LGBT mental health. Raifman added that same-sex marriage laws typically improved LGBT mental health, while same-sex bans were associated with mental harm.

Raifman concluded the forum by addressing the following question: “Is it a cake or is it just structural stigma?”

“I think what the evidence shows is that whether discrimination takes the shape of a cake or a marriage license, or an adoption, that LGBT rights are linked to health and that is relevant to this story,” said Raifman.


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