Legal Gay Marriage: Good for Public Health

It is well known that marriage is good for one’s health – both physical and mental, especially for men. This is shown in longer life expectancy,  less time spent in hospital stays, and reduced rates of both depression and substance abuse, for married men and women compared with those who are either never married, or divorced. This greater well-being for married couples in turn feeds into the community, contributing to social stability, which is one reason why social conservatives are so keen to promote marriage. There are also financial savings, in reduced medical costs for both individuals and the public health authorities – and so good reason for fiscal conservatives to support marriage.

It should not be a surprise then, that a research study on the public health effects of legal gay marriage (published online Dec. 15 in the American Journal of Public Health) has found a marked improvement in health levels of married gay men. However, the benefits accrued also to unmarried men.

Legalized gay marriage may boost gay men’s health

Gay men who live in states where same-sex marriage is legal are healthier, have less stress, make fewer doctor visits and have lower health-care costs, a new study finds.

 It included more than 1,200 patients at a large Massachusetts health clinic that provides services for gay men and other sexual minorities.

During the 12 months after the 2003 legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, there was a significant decrease in medical care visits, mental health visits and mental health-care costs among gay and bisexual men, compared to the 12 months before the law changed.

This led to a 13 percent reduction in health-care visits and a 14 percent reduction in health-care costs. The health benefits were similar for single gay men and those with partners.


Living against a background of homophobia, intolerance, discrimination and outright violence (especially when experienced as bullying by the young) leads to greater levels of stress, and so to stress – related health effects,  for LGBT people.  The legal right to marry is a powerful symbol that discrimination and intolerance are not acceptable. It may be that this is one way in which the health benefits of marriage equality extend to those who remain single, as well as to those who choose to marry.

“These findings suggest that marriage equality may produce broad public health benefits by reducing the occurrence of stress-related health conditions in gay and bisexual men,” lead author Mark Hatzenbuehler, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said in a foundation news release.

Previous research has shown that not having the legal right to marry can have a stressful effect on gays, lesbians and bisexuals, according to the release.

“This research makes important contributions to a growing body of evidence on the social, economic and health benefits of marriage equality,” Hatzenbuehler said.


What are the implications for theology?

Traditionalists assume that we must reject all forms of same – sex erotic activity, as contrary to “natural law” . An alternative view of “natural law” says we must support whatever contributes to human flourishing. The conservatives counter with the reasonable questions,  “What is meant by human flourighing”, and “What evidence is there that homoerotic relationships contribute to it?”

Sound physical and mental healtmust surely be accepted as one measure of “human flourishing”. This research provides supporting evidence for the claim that legal marriage contributes to it.

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