How same-sex marriage laws can save teens' lives

High school students are less likely to commit suicide in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legalised, a new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.

The results were pretty clear: same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 7 percent reduction in the proportion of high school students reporting a suicide attempt within the past year. Rates of attempted suicide among gay, lesbian and bisexual youths are hard to capture not only because they deal with suicide attempts - behavior that often goes unacknowledged - but because the behavior of interest happens in a group that constitutes a stigmatized minority. Policies preventing same-sex marriage are a form of structural stigma because they label sexual minorities as different and deny them benefits associated with marriage, according to the article. Still, the study's findings support prior research that has found that legalizing same-sex marriage is positively associated with improvements in both the physical and mental health of adults within the LGB and other sexual minority communities.

Authors report 8.6 percent of all high school students and 28.5 percent of 231,413 students who identified as sexual minorities reported suicide attempts before same-sex marriage policies were implemented.

Greenberg said the relationship between mental health and public policy is important. That would be equivalent to an estimated 134,446 fewer adolescents attempting suicide each year.

"It's interesting times - we've got Donald Trump, who has been ambivalent and inconsistent with LGB issues at best, and explicitly discriminatory at worst", she said, adding that more positive, proactive legislation was needed across the board in terms of LGB adoption, tackling so-called "gay cure" therapies, and bolstering anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.

MA was the first state with marriage equality in 2004. The effects persisted for at least two years. "There may be something about having equal rights - even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them - that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future". They conducted state-by-state analyses, comparing, for example, suicide attempt rates in a state like MA before same-sex marriage was legalised to the period right after. However, there was little or no change at all in the suicide attempts in states which did not implement the same-sex policy.

"We can all agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing, regardless of our political views", she says.

Further, there was a 14 per cent decline among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents.

FMI: The study can be read on the JAMA Pediatrics website. Changes in marriage equality laws hopscotched across states that had widely disparate patterns of suicide, and of factors that are linked to suicide, such as poverty, joblessness and substance abuse.

  • Carolyn Briggs