Laws that legalized same-sex marriage is associated with a significant drop in teen suicide rates, particularly for LGBTQ individuals

By Julie Mazziotta
February 22, 2017 03:35 PM
Same-sex marriage legalized
Alex Wong/Getty

Laws legalizing same-sex marriage are strongly associated with a significant drop in teen suicide rates, particularly for LGBTQ individuals.

A new study from Johns Hopkins University compared the instances of teen suicide in states that allow same-sex marriage with those that do not, and found that states that allow same-sex marriage were associated with over 134,000 fewer suicide attempts per year, according to a press release.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that state laws allowing same-sex marriage were associated with a 7 percent drop in suicide attempts overall, and a 14 percent decline in attempts among LGBTQ adolescents.

“These are high school students so they aren’t getting married any time soon, for the most part,” says Julia Raifman, the study leader and a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Still, permitting same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation. There may be something about having equal rights — even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them — that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future.”

Currently, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24, and LGBTQ youth are four times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide, according to the Trevor Project.

“It’s not easy to be an adolescent, and for adolescents who are just realizing they are sexual minorities, it can be even harder — that’s what the data on disparities affecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents tell us,” Raifman says.

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She and her fellow researchers started gathering data beginning on Jan. 1, 1999, five years before Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. Their research went through Dec. 31, 2015, six months after the Supreme Court declared it legal nationwide.

Raifman says that if same-sex marriage rights or any other policies that help LGBTQ people are reversed, it could change the positive trend.

“We can all agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing, regardless of our political views,” Raifman says. “Policymakers need to be aware that policies on sexual minority rights can have a real effect on the mental health of adolescents. The policies at the top can dictate in ways both positive and negative what happens further down.”