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

Forthcoming, The Journal of Legal Studies

45 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2020 Last revised: 25 May 2021

See all articles by Netta Barak Corren

Netta Barak Corren

Harvard Law School; University of Pennsylvania - Carey Law School; Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Date Written: November 7, 2020


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 due to his religious beliefs. This article examines the behavioral effect of this decision in an experiment (N=1,155 businesses) that measured discrimination towards same-sex couples in the field of wedding services shortly before and after Masterpiece. I find that Masterpiece significantly reduced the agreement to provide services to same-sex couples as compared with heterosexual couples, even among vendors that provided this service before the decision. Considering the variety and number of vendors involved in a typical wedding, I estimate the odds that same-sex couples would experience discrimination post-Masterpiece between 61% and 85%. The effect is significantly more pronounced in religiously dense environments. These results discredit the frequently-made argument that religious exemptions will not expand discrimination. Instead, the Masterpiece experiment shows 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 the research on Supreme Court effects on the public.

Keywords: Religious Exemptions, Marriage Equality, Sexual Orientation Discrimination, Field experiments, Weddings, Public Accommodations, Court Effects

JEL Classification: H42, K23, K10, K19

Suggested Citation

Barak Corren, Netta, Religious Exemptions Increase Discrimination Towards Same-Sex Couples: Evidence from Masterpiece Cakeshop (November 7, 2020). Forthcoming, The Journal of Legal Studies, Available at SSRN: or

Netta Barak Corren (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

University of Pennsylvania - Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Hebrew University of Jerusalem ( email )

Mount Scopus
Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91905

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