Health and Wellness

Legalizing marriage equality improved people’s mental health, according to science

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A study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows what LGBTQ people already know: marriage equality has improved the mental health of same-sex couples.

The researchers had been studying the patchwork of statewide rules prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalizes marriage equality across the country in 2015, but expanded their focus to look at the overall impact of the ruling on same-sex couples.

“Our key question was, does federal recognition improve the well-being of individuals in same-sex relationships?” said associate professor Brian Ogolsky, the lead researcher on the paper, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Researchers analyzed data from 279 people collected four months before the Obergefell decision, then two weeks, three months, and one year after.

Related: Marriage equality campaigns are harmful for LGBTQ mental health, study finds 

Researchers found that – no matter the marital status of their subjects – the decision has a positive impact on their mental well-being.

“Prior to the ruling, levels of internalized homonegativity, isolation, and vicarious trauma were positively associated with psychological distress,” reads the study. “Levels of felt stigma and vicarious trauma were negatively associated with life satisfaction.”

“Following the ruling, trajectories of psychological distress decreased over time for individuals who experienced higher (vs. lower) initial levels of internalized homonegativity, isolation, and vicarious trauma,” the study concludes.

What’s more, researchers found that those who showed more distress before the decision were also the people who showed the most improvement in their well-being and overall life satisfaction.

“The most pronounced improvement was for those who were worse off in the beginning,” said Ogolsky in a release about the study.

“If you experienced higher levels of stigma related to sexual orientation before Obergefell, then you had a larger reduction in minority stress, and larger gain in psychological well-being, after the decision.”

Researchers also looked at the effect of the ruling on opposite-sex couples but found no evidence that the Obergefell decision had any negative consequences for them. What they did find, however, was a higher level of support from families for those in same-sex relations.

“As family support increased, friend support decreased,” said Ogolsky. “That is, if one’s support needs are being met by others, then needs in other domains decrease.”

“It’s also possible that family support increased because marriage equality allowed heterosexual kin to see their LGBTQ family members as fitting into cultural norms of marriage.”

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