Marriage equality saw teen suicide rate fall, study claims

Research in the US suggests same-sex marriage laws lowered the number of suicides, for both straight and LGBTQ teens

Marriage equality saw teen suicide rate fall, study claims


As many as 134,000 teenagers in the US have been saved from suicide because of the Supreme Court’s introduction of same-sex marriage, a new study has claimed.

Despite the rates of suicide increasing in the US, especially for teenagers who identify as LGBTQ, researchers at Johns Hopkins University noted a stark difference in levels reported in states which legalised gay marriage. In fact, the study claimed that the 2015 court ruling saw a significant drop in suicide attempts among all teenage demographics, though the biggest change was among those in the LGBTQ community.

By the numbers

Examining suicide rates in 32 of the 35 states that passed same-sex marriage legislation, both in favour and outlawing it, in the 11 years before the justices of the Supreme Court overturned the ban, the statistics painted a clear image: after a state introduced marriage equality, suicide attempts among LGBTQ teens dropped an average of 14%, and by 7% for all teenagers.

In states that outlawed same-sex marriage, no difference in suicide attempt rates was observed, though the researchers did add that suicide rates did return to pre-marriage equality levels two years after the fall occurred.

“This study was really motivated by evidence that there are large disparities across domains of health that affect LGBT adolescents,” said the study’s co-author, Julia Raifman. “I was interested in whether larger structural issues were potentially leading to those disparities.”

Outlining her findings, Raifman acknowledged some of the limitations of the study, arguing that since the average teenager is not mulling over the decision to marry or not, it’s unlikely that LGBTQ teens changed their outlook because of legislation governing their future relationships. But in states where same-sex marriage was introduced, the possibility that somewhere down the line they might be able to marry could have served to break down feelings of social stigma and provide a greater sense of hope.

Introduction is the key

Furthermore, the study suggested that the drop off in suicide rates was only found after the states had actually gone ahead and introduced the legislation and not in the years leading up to it. The researchers were unable to state categorically if it was the new laws or the public campaigns in the lead up that were responsible for the fall in the suicide rate.

Regardless, the evidence does suggest that there is a quantifiable link between the legalisation of same-sex marriage and reducing the number of teenagers dying by suicide. Which is why the study cautioned against the potential rolling back of the law in the US in the current political climate.

“I would hope that policymakers and the public would consider the potential health implications of laws and policies affect LBGT rights,” Julia Raifman said.

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