Making marriage available to same-sex couples has improved access to health care among gay men, a working paper shows.
It is one of the first studies to examine the effect legal marriage has on the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
“This is an important question to study, since recent research has shown that LGBT individuals often face barriers to accessing health services including lack of insurance, stigma, and discrimination, and, as a result, can experience poor health outcomes,” says lead author Christopher Carpenter, professor of economics at Vanderbilt University.
“A very large body of research in economics and sociology demonstrates that marriage is protective for health for heterosexual individuals, but ours is the first to show that marriage policy has meaningful effects on health care access for sexual-minority men.”
Carpenter and colleagues analyzed 16 years of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a database of information about United States residents’ health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive services.
While the CDC survey did not specifically ask respondents their sexual orientation, the researchers were able to deduce from related responses about household structure that a sizable percentage of adults in households with exactly two same-sex adults are lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals who are likely in same-sex relationships.
“We found that lesbian, gay, or bisexual adults were more likely to get married after having access to legal same-sex marriage, and for men, that is associated with a statistically significant increase in the probability that they have health insurance, have a usual source of care, and have a routine health check-up,” says coauthor Gilbert Gonzales Jr., assistant professor of health policy.
It surprised the group not see a similar effect for lesbian adults, but they plan on future research to better examine the cause for that difference. Another surprising finding was that while there was increased health insurance coverage and health care access for gay men, they observed no actual health effects in any of the populations they examined.
“For example, mental health was not improved, and there were no changes in negative health behaviors such as cigarette smoking or heavy drinking,” Gonzales says. “That might mean that it’s too soon to see some of these changes, since legalized same-sex marriage is a fairly recent phenomenon in the United States.”
The next step is to analyze more comprehensive data to see whether they are able to uncover other health impacts related to marriage.
“If not, this suggests that same-sex marriage laws are not enough to positively impact the health of LGBT people,” says Gonzales. “There is still a lot of room for change in the policy environment to ensure the safety and well-being of these populations, but more research is needed.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported the work.
Source: Vanderbilt University