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Study: Marriage leads to improved health for same-sex couples and their children

Tuesday, April 15, 2014
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Dr. Paul Melchert (left) and his husband James Zimmerman, with their twin boys.Jim Mone, AP (File)

Dr. Paul Melchert (left) and his husband James Zimmerman, with their twin boys.

A recent report from The New England Journal of Medicine finds that marriage equality has positive effects on public health by improving access to healthcare for same-sex couples and their children, and reducing the risks of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems when a couple’s relationship is not legally recognized.

According to the report, public health research has suggested not only that discriminatory environments and bans on same-sex marriage are detrimental to health but also that legalizing same-sex marriage (among other policies expanding protections) contributes to better health for LGBT people.

Legalizing same-sex marriage also improves access to health insurance for LGBT people, the report finds:

About 55% of Americans are covered through their own or a family member’s employer-sponsored health insurance plan, but many employers do not extend coverage to same-sex partners or children of same-sex partners. Even among companies with more than 200 employees, only 42% offer health benefits to same-sex partners, according to the 2012 Employer Health Benefits Survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust.

Thus, adults in same-sex relationships are less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to have health insurance and may therefore delay or forgo necessary medical care. When states legalize same-sex marriage, some workplaces that offer employer-sponsored insurance are required to treat married same-sex couples just as they treat married opposite-sex couples.

Therefore, disparities in insurance coverage are narrower in states that permit same-sex marriage or civil unions that guarantee complete spousal rights to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage also strengthens access to health insurance for the 220,000 children who are being raised by same-sex parents in the United States. Employers who offer health insurance to dependent children often require that minors be related to the employee by birth, legal marriage, or legal adoption, so children with LGBT parents are left with diminished protections in states that deny legal marriages and adoptions to same-sex couples.

As a result, children with same-sex parents are less likely than children with married opposite-sex parents to have private health insurance. These disparities diminish when LGBT families live in states with marriage equality or laws supporting adoptions for same-sex parents.

Cureently, same-sex couples can legally wed in 17 states, and their unions are recognized by the federal government.

Read the full report at The New England Journal of Medicine

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