The implementation of state laws legalizing same-sex marriage was associated with a significant reduction in the rate of suicide attempts among high school students – and an even greater reduction among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
The researchers, publishing February 20 in JAMA Pediatrics, estimate that state-level same-sex marriage policies were associated with more than 134,000 fewer adolescent suicide attempts per year. The study compared states that passed laws allowing same-sex marriage through January 2015 to states that did not enact state-level legalization. A Supreme Court decision made same-sex marriage federal law in June 2015.
The findings show the effect that social policies can have on behavior, the researchers say.
“These are high school students, so they aren’t getting married any time soon, for the most part,” says study leader Dr. Julia Raifman, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. “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.”