Happy Valentine’s Day from Public Health Post! The spirit of the day presents a special opportunity to emphasize the connection between love, law, and health outcomes.
Health is influenced by many laws in many ways. A prime example is the legalization of same-sex marriage. The landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) established the fundamental right to marry for same-sex couples. Before this, same-sex marriage was very slowly being implemented state-by-state, starting with Massachusetts in 2004 and growing to 36 by 2015. Over that eleven-year period, public support for same-sex marriage grew from 42% to 64%.
This matters for public health because legal and public support for same-sex marriage are important factors affecting health in the gay community.
“Same-sex marriage policies were associated with…a 7% relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide.”
Back in 2011, William Buffie argued that embracing marriage equality is the right public policy move to make because “Legislation to make marriage equality a reality will change, and save, lives.” Buffie’s thought that legal and social recognition of same-sex marriage would signify more than just symbolic support for the gay community has been confirmed by recent literature. Raifman et al. recently demonstrated the connection between law and health in their analysis of data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System between 1999 and 2015. Among the 762,678 students surveyed, 8.6% of all high school students and 28.5% of students who identified as sexual minorities reported suicide attempts before legalization of same-sex marriage. They write: “Same-sex marriage policies were associated with…a 7% relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide.” The authors conclude that legalization of same-sex marriage was significantly associated with improved mental health outcomes. Considering the mental health consequences of same-sex marriage policies, leaders around the world should continually fight toward enacting policy that improves health and upholds human rights.
Again, Happy Valentine’s Day to all. Love is love is love.