Ilan H. Meyer, PhD Testifies in Landmark California Proposition 8 Case

February 4, 2010

Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, testified as an expert witness in the highly visible gay civil rights case tried in California federal district court. Dr. Meyer’s research on minority stress is widely quoted in scientific papers. The case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which just concluded two weeks of testimony, is a constitutional challenge to the California Proposition 8 law, which says that only opposite-sex partners could marry in California. The suit makes the claim that California’s law violates the Federal Constitution by discriminating against gay men and lesbians on the grounds that it violates federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. The court proceedings have been covered by leading national publications.

Based on his research on minority stress, Dr. Meyer stated that stigma, and related prejudice and discrimination, has a negative impact on the health of lesbians, gay men, and bisexual (LGB) populations and is responsible for health disparities. His and others’ research has shown that a social environment characterized by prejudice and stigma is detrimental to the health of LGB people in that it brings about life events—large and small—and other conditions that are stressful. “This stress can cause injury in the form of psychological distress, mental health problems, suicide, and lowered well-being,” Dr. Meyer said in his testimony.

Closing arguments in the widely watched case are scheduled at the end of February 2010. According to legal experts, the case is likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court on appeals.  The plaintiffs in the case are a gay male couple and a lesbian couple who seek to get married in California. Representing the two couples are two of the most prominent U.S. attorneys, Ted Olson, former Solicitor General of the U.S. during the period 2001-2004 under President George W. Bush, and David Boies, who represented Vice President Albert Gore in his unsuccessful appeal in the Florida vote for the Presidency in the election of 2000.

Dr. Meyer is co-editor of The Health of Sexual Minorities: Public Health Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Populations and a 2009 co-recipient of the prestigious Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

About the Mailman School of Public Health

The only accredited school of public health in New York City and among the first in the nation, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting millions of people locally and globally. The Mailman School is the recipient of some of the largest government and private grants in Columbia University’s history. Its more than 1000 graduate students pursue master’s and doctoral degrees, and the School’s 300 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as infectious and chronic diseases, health promotion and disease prevention, environmental health, maternal and child health, health over the life course, health policy, and public health preparedness.