Same-Sex Legal Marriage and Psychological Well-Being: Findings From the California Health Interview Survey

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found less “psychological distress” among same-sex couples in California who got married in the short time window in 2008 when gay marriage was legal in the state. That was in comparison to gay, lesbian and bisexual Californians who were not in legalized unions. That was also true of gay people in domestic partnerships, which have been an option for same-sex couples in California since 2000. But marriage, in particular, showed a stronger statistical link to better mental health, he said. “This shows us there is something going on there,” said author Richard Wight, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health.

The findings were based on a statewide survey of more than 47,000 Californians. It gauged people’s psychological distress by asking them how often they’d felt nervous, hopeless, restless or depressed in the past month. In general, people in legal unions — whether same-sex or heterosexual marriage, or domestic partnerships — fared better than single people, regardless of sexual orientation. But the highest distress levels were seen among gay, lesbian and bisexual Californians not in legal unions.

A limit of the study, Wight acknowledged, was that it was conducted at one point in time. So it’s not clear what the survey respondents’ mental health was like before they got married or entered a domestic partnership. Maybe happier people — straight or gay — are more likely to settle down. But there’s also evidence from long-term research that the option to marry affects gay Americans’ health, said Brian Mustanski, associate professor of medical social science at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. He pointed to a 2010 study by Columbia University researchers that surveyed nearly 35,000 Americans for about five years. During that time, some U.S. states instituted bans against gay marriage. The study found that after those bans took effect, rates of anxiety, depression and alcohol use increased among gay, lesbian and bisexual residents. Generalized anxiety disorder — which refers to chronic worry and tension — more than doubled in prevalence. In contrast, psychiatric disorders either held steady or rose a much smaller degree among heterosexuals living in those states.

Population of focus: Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Californians

Links to resource:

Date: 2012

Journal: American Journal of Public Health