The LGBT Health & Development Program

Same-Sex Marriage: An improvement to gay men’s health

Posted on January 6th, 2012 by Farrin in Research Blog. No Comments

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health provides insightful research outlining the effect of same-sex marriage laws on health care use and costs for gay and bisexual men (Hatzenbuehler et al., 2011).  The study examined the frequency of visits of 1,211 participants, both before and after the legalization of marriage in Massachusetts (2003).  This research is unique in that data before a “natural” event were available for analysis.  Most natural events do not provide such pre-event data to sufficiently document the change following a natural event, in this case the passing of the Massachusetts same-sex marriage law.

The study found “a significant decrease in medical care visits (13%) and costs (10%) and in mental health care visits (13%) and expenditures (14%).”  The lead researcher, Mark Hatzenbuehler at Columbia University, suggested that one possible explanation is a reduced level of stressors that sexual minority men experience when institutionalized forms of stigma are eliminated, such as the passing of the same-sex marriage law.  These stressors are associated with hypertension, depression, and adjustment disorders, all of which showed reductions in frequency of associated medical visits and treatment costs after the marriage law passed. It is important to note that HIV-related visits remained unchanged–suggesting that the reported reduction did not affect routine or HIV-related costs. Also, it is notable that the benefits were similar for single gay men, not only those that were partnered.

As the U.S. continues to struggle with the societal burden of rising health care costs, “This research makes important contributions to a growing body of evidence on the social, economic, and health benefits of marriage equality,” Hatzenbuehler said in an interview for on 12/17/11.

Some  groups have claimed the research is “flawed” stating that Hatzenbuehler and his colleagues neglected to consider the declining economy or lack of affordable healthcare.  However, the research analysis states that “only individuals with data at both time points (i.e., those patients with at least one health care visit in the 12 months before and after same-sex marriage was legalized)” were used in the study (Hatzenbuehler et al., 2011).

What do you think?  Could same-sex marriage laws increase the physical and mental well-being of the LGBT community?

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