Gay Marriage Bans Make LGBT People Actually Sick

ByKatie Halper

The right wing loves to pathologize homosexuality and portray LGBT people as sick. The great irony is that the right's homophobic policies and depictions are what actually have negative effects on the psychological well-being of the LGBT community.

In an NPR interview Tuesday morning, Mark Hatzenbuehler, a psychologist at Columbia University who studies the health effects of social policies, explained that bans on same-sex marriage have a negative effect of LGBT people's mental health, while legalization of same-sex marriage has a positive one. Hatzenbuehler reviewed date collected by the National Institutes of Health, which surveyed the mental health of 43,093 Americans before several same-sex marriage bans went into effect. The NIH followed up after the marriage bans and re-interviewed 34,653 of the original subjects. 

Hatzenbuehler, along with his colleagues Katie McLaughlin, Katherine Keyes and Deborah Hasin found that, "Lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who lived in the states that banned same-sex marriage experienced a significant increase in psychiatric disorders... There was a 37% increase in mood disorders ... a 42% increase in alcohol-use disorders, and — I think really strikingly — a 248% increase in generalized anxiety disorders." 

Of course those numbers in and of themselves do not prove that social policy affects mental health. But Hatzenbuehler et al were able to control the experiment by looking at LGBT people who lived in states that did not pass same-sex marriage bans as well as heterosexual people who lived in the states that passed the bans. And neither population suffered the increase in psychological problems encountered by LGBT people whose states took away their freedom to marry. Thus, they were able to isolate the bans as a factor and deduce a causal relationship. 

On the flip side, the psychologists saw that in the state of Massachusetts, the legalization of same-sex marriage had positive effects on gay men's mental health. Hatzenbuehler studied 1,211 gay men and found that after same-sex marriage was legalized, they went to the hospital less frequently, had lower health care costs, and suffered fewer incidences of stress-related diseases like depression, adjustment disorders, and high blood pressure. 

This makes sense given how stressful being deprived of rights is. Hatzenbuehler reflects that LGBT respondents who lived in states that passed the bans "reported multiple stressors during that period," like "seeing negative media portrayals, anti-gay graffiti. They talked about experiencing a loss of safety and really feeling like these amendments and these policies were really treating them as second-class citizens." 

The findings support other research, which also points to the psychological harm caused by ballots related to same-sex marriage.