Study: Gay Health Imperiled By Denial Of Marriage
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A new national study shows widespread psychological and social harm inflicted on same-sex couples because they are denied the right to marry.
The study, called “I Do, But I Can’t" was released at a San Francisco news conference Tuesday by the National Sexuality Resource Center and is the first first peer-reviewed study to analyze the impact of marriage denial on the mental health and well being of gay men and lesbians.
The co-authors are Gilbert Herdt, PhD, anthropologist, and director of the National Sexuality Resource Center at San Francisco State University, and Robert Kertzner, MD, practicing psychiatrist, and Adjunct Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University.
They found that on average, married individuals have better mental health, more emotional support, less psychological distress, and lower rates of psychiatric disorder than the unmarried.
"Marriage denial creates what experts call minority stress, the psychological effects of constant discrimination that bars individuals from the legitimate means of achieving goals that are valued by the society in which they live,” said Herdt.
"Lesbians and gay men work just as hard as heterosexuals do in creating and maintaining committed relationships, but they do not get the same tangible benefits."
The study also found that heterosexual networks are subtle but critical mechanisms that support marriage.
A case study of a town in rural Oregon revealed how heterosexuals routinely relied on churches, schools, and neighborhood visibility to secure or enhance jobs, access social support such as childcare, and form local political alliances. A same-sex couple residing in the same town was shut out of this structure of opportunities.
Minority group members were seen as disadvantaged in attaining monetary success because of exclusion from common social structures. For lesbians and gay men, marriage denial leads to a similar minority group disjunction between goals and opportunities the report says.
A gay man, Stuart Gaffney, told reporters about himself and his long-time partner, Jonathan Lewis.
"When we were able to marry in San Francisco, the burden of shame was lifted away. We had a taste of all we had missed. Thirty days later our marriage was invalidated and we felt the shame placed back upon us,” Gaffney said.
"The stigma and harm caused by denying committed lesbian and gay couples the choice to marry fuels a vicious cycle,” added Herdt.
"Fictitious stereotypes attribute promiscuity to gay men and lesbians, fueling the false belief that they are immoral and reinforcing in the minds of critics the ineligibility of lesbians and gay men for marriage and parenthood. The new proliferation of this old prejudice through the denial of marriage by sexual orientation, like all injustice, is harmful to us all.”
The findings of the report come as no surprise to people engaged in mental health in the gay community.
Earlier this month 365Gay.com reported that a counseling center that provides psychotherapy services to Austin's LGBT community found that the constitutional amendment passed by Texas voters last November is taking a toll on the mental of health of gays and lesbians in the state.
A British study released this month also found that legalized same-sex unions boosts both the mental and physical health of gays and lesbians.