Key Findings and Recommendations:
How the right to marry affects mental health
Raifman’s study adds to a body of research demonstrating links between same-sex marriage laws and mental health in the queer community. For instance, a 2010 study suggested that psychiatric disorder diagnoses among queer people increased significantly in states that banned same-sex marriage in 2004 and 2005, and that spending on mental health services decreased among gay men in Massachusetts after the state legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, no matter their relationship status.
Laws that speak to the core of a person’s identity can have the effect of making someone feel included in wider society, says Dan Reidenberg, director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education in Minnesota.
The right to marriage also signals a right to experience love, to be a part of a romantic relationship and the right to a certain social status and benefits. This makes people feel more included and lessens shame about their status as a sexual minority, he said.
Reidenberg wasn’t involved in Raifman’s analysis, but he praised it for emphasizing a reduction in the number of suicide attempts.
“Any time we lessen the potential for death by taking away the number of attempts, we’re literally saving people’s lives.”
“The more that people feel that they are accepted and that people are not going to ostracize them or stigmatize them or put them in a separate category and make them feel different and uncared for, the better off we’re going to be in terms of keeping people alive,” Reidenberg continued. “We’re not just talking about reducing suicide, as you can see in this study, but we’re talking about general mental health and well being.”
On the other hand, laws that bar same-sex couples from legal marriage can have negative psychosocial effects, both on the couples themselves and the children they are raising together. A 2006 article written by members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (and published the same year the anti-LGBT Defense of Marriage Act went into effect) argued for more inclusive public policies for LGBT relationships because of their potential to strengthen family ties between parents and children, and also to protect the children legally, financially and emotionally from the insecurity of an uncertain legal status.
Raifman’s study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.