Legalizing same-sex marriage in the U.S. may have literally saved American lives.
In a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers at Harvard and John Hopkins universities examined the rate of youth suicide attempts in states before and after same-sex marriage laws. They found legalizing same-sex marriage was associated with a marked decrease in youth suicide attempts.
Before same-sex marriage was legalized, 8.6% of high school students in the study reported a suicide attempt. After, the overall rate dropped by 0.6 percentage point — a 7% decrease. The effect was even higher in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning youth, who saw a 14% decrease.
The researchers analyzed Centers for Disease Control & Prevention data from over 750,000 self-reported surveys covering a 16-year period between 1999 and 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized marriage in all 50 states. Whether an individual identified as trans was not included in this analysis.
The decrease in suicide attempts was concentrated around the time each state legalized same-sex marriage before the nationwide ruling.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people. LGBTQ youth are especially at risk.
It is the second-leading cause of death in people ages 10-24 years, according to the CDC.
Lesbian, gay, and bi youth are four times more likely to have a suicide attempt, according to the study. Trans youth may be at even greater risk.
As to why the numbers dropped, it’s possible that legalization communicated to young people that they really are equal.
That’s what study leader Julia Raifman told PBS NewsHour.
While the study wasn’t designed to get into the nitty-gritty of individual psychologies, we know social stigma can play a big role in a person’s mental health. Anti-marriage laws may have represented a kind of structural, state-sponsored stigma in young people’s minds.
By legalizing same-sex marriage, the states may have effectively removed that stigma.
Today, though some advocates fear for LGBTQ rights under the new administration, same-sex marriage is the law of the land.
The Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in all states back in 2015. President Trump has promised to uphold this ruling and other LBGTQ rights, but some advocates are still worried about what the new administration and a GOP-controlled Congress will mean.
Nevertheless, no matter what happens, the numbers are hard to argue with. It really does look like this saves lives. In fact, the authors estimated that same-sex marriage will mean 134,000 fewer suicide attempts per year.
“Regardless of political views, I think everyone can agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing,” Raifman said.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.