In recent years, many health profession organizations have issued policy statements in support of marriage equality, including the American Academy of Nursing, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association. Their support for marriage equality has been a response to growing social acceptance of same-sex marriage, but also has been a major factor in affirming the fact that committed relationships, and including the legal/social recognition of these relationships in the form of marriage, has important health benefits.
I for one have always had misgivings about the institution of marriage as we know it, primarily because of the fact that it is grounded in heteronormativity that perpetrate gender roles and gender stereotypes, and because of the close ties to religious views and beliefs that have not been kind to LGBTQ people. But despite these drawbacks, the fact remains that many LGBTQ people have sustained committed relationships for years, even decades, and have benefited from many of the health-related benefits that come from intimate, sustained daily connections that provide support, love, and nurturance that contribute to health and well-being. Of course no long-term relationship is without its challenges and problems! But for LGBTQ people who have sustained these relationships in a social context of disapproval and denial of their relationships, the challenges have been multiplied many times over!
Now that the majority of LGBTQ people in the United States, and all in several other countries, live where their committed relationships can be openly and legally recognized, some of the challenges and stressors around same-sex relationships have gradually being lifted. While it is true that even in northern California, on of the most liberal geographic areas in the world, we still approach every public encounter wondering if our relationship will be accepted, gradually the reality is coming through that we can now enjoy the same kinds of social acceptance that many heterosexual couples have enjoyed for their entire lives.
As a recent article in Psychiatry Advisor notes: “multiple studies have found that psychosocial stress associated with having a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identity is implicated in the increased rate of mental health disorders found in LGBT persons. This stress comprises discrimination, concealment of sexual identity, and internalized negative attitudes about sexual or gender identity. Other studies more specific to marriage bans report that lesbians and gay men living in states where such bans were implemented had increased rates of mood and anxiety disorders, compared with lesbians and gay men living in states without constitutional amendments.”
The social, psychological and physical benefits of marriage equality have yet to be fully researched and documented, and much of the evidence to date is anecdotal. But now that more and more couples are emboldened to be “out,” the research evidence is mounting that the social/legal recognition of same-sex relationships does provide a substantial degree of mental health protection and resilience – health benefits that are vital to the well-being of LGBTQ people, couples and families.
Here at LavenderHealth.org, we will report on reearch findings along this line from time to time, and will include in our resources information related to this important issue. So watch this space! We welcome your comments, and if you have information to share with us at any time, let us know!