Whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, if you like it then you really should put a ring on it. With the rise in same-sex marriage legalization across the nation, it’s important to explore how the newfound benefits of matrimony are affecting people’s health. A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health did just that: The researchers discovered a link between marriage and improved mental health among homosexuals and bisexuals Same-Sex Legal Marriage and Psychological Well-Being: Findings From the California Health Interview Survey. Wight, R.G., Leblanc, A.J., Lee. Richard G. Wight is with the Department of Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, CA. American Journal of Public Health, 2012 Dec 13..
What's the Deal?
Researchers surveyed 36,774 people between the ages of 18 and 70 who were in serious relationships. Of these participants, 1,166 were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. The questionnaire addressed issues related to health and wellbeing, asking about psychological distress and overall health along with legal relationship status, education, and employment status. The results? People in a legally recognized marriage — regardless of sexual orientation — were significantly less stressed than people who hadn’t tied the knot.
Across the entire sample, married heterosexuals reported the least amount of psychological distress. Married homosexuals and bisexuals reported better mental health than unmarried LGBT individuals, who reported the highest psychological distress of everyone surveyed.
Why It Matters
Studies have shown that the LGBT population generally experiences more psychological distress than heterosexuals, which is likely explained by the discrimination and lack of rights associated with this minority group Mental health issues: a comparison of lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women. Koh, A.S., Ross, L.K. Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Journal of Homosexuality, 2006;51(1):33-57 Experiences of harassment, discrimination, and physical violence among young gay and bisexual men. Huebner, D.M., Rebchook, G.M., Kegeles, S.M. Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, AIDS Research Institute, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA. American Journal of Public Health, 2004 Jul;94(7):1200-3. Sexual and gender minority health: what we know and what needs to be done. Mayer, K.H., Bradford, J.B., Makadon, H.J., et al. Infectious Diseases Division, The Miriam Hospital, Providence, RI. American Journal of Public Health, 2008 Jun;98(6):989-95. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.127811. Epub 2008 Apr 29. Attitudes towards lesbians and gay men and support for lesbian and gay human rights among psychology students. Ellis, S.J., Kitzinger, C., Wilkinson, S. School of Social Science and Law, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. Journal of Homosxual, 2002;44(1):121-38. Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Meyer, I.H. Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York. Psychological Bulletin, 2003 Sep;129(5):674-97.. This study provides more evidence pointing to the health benefits of marriage for everyone, which could be used to urge people in power to make marriage attainable for anyone. We also can’t overlook the fact that marriage can include access to health care plans that may lead to better physical health as well Public health implications of same-sex marriage. Buffie, W.C. St. Francis Hospital, Indianapolis, IN. American Journal of Public Health, 2011 Jun;101(6):986-90. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2010.300112..
Is It Legit?
Probably. The survey is limited by its unbalanced sample: Most of the participants were heterosexual, while only a small slice identified as homosexual or bisexual. Moreover, self-reported surveys always leave room for bias, especially when it comes to measuring a person’s psychological distress. That being said, the numbers probably don’t lie. Considering that other studies have associated heterosexual marriages with lower stress levels, it isn’t so shocking that the same might be true for homosexual and bisexual couples Between- and within-sex variation in hormonal responses to psychological stress in a large sample of college students. Maestriieri, D., Baran, N.M., Sapienza, P., et al. Department of Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Stress, 2010 Sep;13(5):413-24.. (A theory the study researchers also pointed out.)
This study’s findings are also backed up by another recent study of older gay men: Those who were married were less stressed Stress and mental health among midlife and older gay-identified men. Wight, R.G., LeBlanc, A.J., de Vries, B., et al. Department of Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, CA. American Journal of Pubic Health, 2012 Mar;102(3):503-10. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300384.. Meanwhile, other research over the past few years suggests (not surprisingly) that bans of same-sex marriage can be damaging to the health of people identifying as LGBTQ.
Originally posted December, 2012. Updated June, 2013.
Do you think marriage reduces stress across the board? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author @lschwech.