On June 26th 2015 same sex marriage was legalised in all 50 states in America. This move was greeted with optimism and renewed hopes of a new age of equality. But this new policy has also had an unexpected flow-on effect on some of America’s more vulnerable teens. New studies have shown a link between the legalisation of same-sex marriage and a drop in young LGBT suicide rates.
The study, focusing specifically on lesbian, gay and bi-sexual teens/ high schoolers found that suicide rates dropped drastically when the laws of their states changed to legalise gay marriage. The study, published in the JAMA Paediatrics journal is the first to investigate how legal reforms and policies impact the mental and emotional wellbeing of homosexual teens.
The research, which was conducted over 16 years, found that in young homosexual teens- a group where attempted suicide is two to seven times more common than those of heterosexual orientation- suicide rates fell 14% below states which had not changed their marriage laws. Julia Raifman, one of the lead investigators of the study believes that: “permitting same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation. 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.”
Public health researchers from John Hopkins University and Harvard University studied and analysed a database of 736, 000 students over a 16-year period. They found that 12.7% of students identified themselves with a sexual minority; 6.4% identified as bisexual, 2.3% as lesbian or gay and 4% as unsure of their own sexuality. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15- 24 and for those who identify as LGBT, this problem becomes much more severe with 29% of young lesbians, gay and bi sexual teens declaring they had attempted suicide, compared to 6% of their heterosexual peers. The study’s researches estimated that from 1999 to 2015, the new marriage laws would be responsible for 134, 000 less adolescent attempted suicides.
Public health specialist at the University of Columbia, Mark L. Hatzenbuehler acknowledges that there can be no single answer or reason to fully understand or explain suicide. However, he goes on suggesting “that structural stigma — in the form of state laws — represents a potentially consequential but thus far largely overlooked” influence behind suicidal behaviour in the young LGBT community.
Raifman believes “We can all agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing, regardless of our political views.” She continues, “policymakers need to be aware that policies on sexual minority rights can have a real effect on the mental health of adolescents. The policies at the top can dictate in ways both positive and negative what happens further down.”