Gay Couple
Gay Couple Reuters

Same-sex marriage is still taboo in large parts of the world. Individuals and couples from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities are rarely accorded the same degree of social respect as most of those who practice or profess traditional sexual mores and preferences -- this is the unfortunate truth even in those few countries where LGBT relationships are legally accepted.

In an effort to continue busting myths that surround homosexual and bisexual lifestyles, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health are now suggesting that same-sex marriages could cut the number of mental and physical illnesses experienced by those in these relationships. Their recent study found that men's health improved in Massachusetts after that state sanctioned same-sex marriages in 2003.

In an exclusive interview with the IBTimes, Columbia University's Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and led the study, said denying the right of same-sex couples to enter into marital unions could have negative health consequences.

Excerpts from the interview:

What is your stand on same-sex marriage? Do you think it should be legalized everywhere?

As a social scientist, I can provide empirical data on the effect of same-sex marriage policies. The results from this study contribute to a growing body of evidence on the social, economic, and health benefits of same-sex marriage.

What are the health and mental implications of same-sex marriage?

The current evidence indicates that policies that extend marriage to same-sex couples improve the health of LGB individuals and, conversely, denying same-sex couples from participating in marriage may have negative mental-health consequences. For example, a recent study showed that LGB individuals living in states that passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage had increases in psychiatric disorders, but LGB individuals living in states without these amendments did not experience any increase in psychiatric disorders.

What causes mental-health disparities in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations?

The evidence to date indicates that the social stressors to which LGB individuals are exposed -- including stigma, discrimination, violence, and victimization -- contribute to their higher risk for mental-health problems.

Your study indicates that same-sex marriages reduce health-care expenses. Could you explain?

In this study, we examined changes in health-care utilization and expenditures among sexual minority men who had been followed during the 12 months before and after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2003. Our results indicated that in the 12 months following the legalization of same-sex marriage, gay and bisexual men had fewer medical-care visits, mental-health-care visits, and mental-health-care costs, compared with the 12 months before the law change. This amounted to a 13 percent reduction in health-care visits and a 14 percent reduction in health-care costs. These effects were similar for partnered and single men, indicating that same-sex marriage policies may have a broad public-health effect.

We also examined which diagnostic codes doctors billed after the visits and found a reduction in several medical and mental-health disorders -- including hypertension, depression, and adjustment disorders -- that are all associated with stress. This result suggests that same-sex marriage policies may improve the social environment surrounding sexual minorities by reducing the amount of stigma-related stress they experience. This may benefit their health, which in turn leads to fewer health-care visits and associated costs.

Does this mean same-sex marriage will get more social recognition?

In the past, social-science research influenced people's opinions on a variety of topics, including racism. For example, the Clarks' classic doll experiments that were used in the Brown vs. Board of Education case. But whether this study will help same-sex marriage acquire more social recognition is an open question.

Can these results be extended to include the lesbian community?

We weren't able to examine that in this study, but it's something we're following up on in future work.

How does a same-sex marriage work as a stress-buster? How is it different from opposite-sex marriages?

This is a good question, but it wasn't something we were able to examine in this study.