The subject of same-sex marriage has been debated on many levels. It is undeniably a political issue, though one that seems to be growing steadily less divisive with time. Some frame the debate in moral terms, while others consider it a question of fairness and justice. And of course the legal ramifications continue to be scrutinized as various bans on same-sex marriage are challenged in court, wending their way inexorably to the Supreme Court.
But marriage equality isn’t merely a question of law or morality. It is also a question of health.
When it comes to same-sex marriage and physical or mental well-being, much of the focus has been on children. Foes of marriage equality couch their opposition in terms of rearing children in an “ideal” setting, and a much-touted study claiming to show that children raised in households with same-sex parents fare poorly is a favorite of theirs, despite its manifest flaws. For its part, the American Academy of Pediatrics, no slouch in the child-protection department (it once advocated redesigning the hotdog to lower the risk of choking), has endorsed parenting by same-sex couples for over a decade and announced its outright support for marriage equality last year.
As a pediatrician (and, full disclosure, an AAP member who has done advocacy work regarding marriage equality on its behalf), this is a stance I support based upon observations I’ve made in my own practice. Over the years I’ve had numerous patients raised by gay and lesbian parents who have thrived every bit as much as those raised by opposite-sex parents. They were no less loved, no less cared for, no less happy and flourishing than any from a “traditional” family. I have seen same-sex parents face health problems big and small with the same courage and grace as mother-father couples. What matters to kids is being raised in a stable environment by people who love them.
If you were to ask my children’s pediatrician what she believes, I think she would say the same thing. My husband and I are raising four kids of our own, and I can’t imagine life without them. We have the same joys, share the same struggles, and face the same frustrations as our friends and family members in opposite-sex relationships. And I am glad we live in a state that now offers us all the same legal protections.
But marriage equality hasn’t just been good for my kids. It’s been good for me.
Same-sex marriage makes gays and lesbians who have access to it more healthy, according to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine. In it, Gilbert Gonzales demonstrates that marriage equality has public health benefits that make it a policy worth supporting on those grounds. Among the salubrious outcomes he reports are increased access to health care for gays and lesbians who could obtain insurance through spouses whose employers offer it. In addition, being legally married confers lower risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
I can certainly endorse these findings from my own perspective. When I travel with my family, crossing the border into a state where my marriage isn’t legal is a significant stressor. If something should happen to my husband or me, would we be able to see each other in the hospital? Would we be able to make health care decisions for each other? When we took a vacation last year and it dawned on us that every place we were visiting was in a state with marriage equality, it alleviated a lot of anxiety.
Even the small lexical shift from calling the man I’ve shared a life and home with for over a decade my “partner” (that vague word delicately chosen to avoid offense) to “husband” brings me a measure of happiness. I can talk about my family using the same terms and expecting the same respect as anyone else. There has been a perceptible improvement in my own wellbeing since the state where we live granted us the right to marry.
If I, a financially secure man living in a liberal area with supportive family can say this, how much more of an impact would marriage equality make for those who do not enjoy these advantages? If simply traveling through states without legal equality caused me stress, how much more negatively must it impact gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who live there all the time? (At this point in my life, I couldn’t fathom moving to a state without same-sex marriage.) Intuitively it makes obvious sense that allowing LGBT people to marry would make them healthier, but it strengthens the argument to have Gonzales’s data to back it up.
Marriage equality is the right policy from numerous vantage points. It confers protection under the law to those who have lacked it. It makes America a more equitable and just place to live.
And, as we see, it makes it healthier, too.