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Legalizing same-sex marriage improved access to health care of gay men

Legalizing same-sex marriage improved the health of gay men, a new study has found.

Researchers say that in states where same-sex marriage was legal, both prior to and following the landmark Supreme Court decision in 2015, gay men had an easier time gaining access to health care, which has been linked to better health outcomes.

Past research has shown that heterosexual marriages result in lower rates of depression, longer life-spans and better health care access, and a handful of studies conducted in individual states have shown an improvement in health care quality for gay couples.

But this study, conducted by Vanderbilt University, is the first to show marriage equality in all 50 states improved health care access for men in same-sex relationships.

Legalizing same-sex marriage has improved healthcare access for gay men, a new study from Vanderbilt University has shown

For the study, the team looked at data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a health survey that collects data on risk behaviors of US residents.

The researchers chose a period between 2000 and 2016, although same-sex marriage was not legal in any US state until Massachusetts legalized it in 2004.

Because the CDC survey did not ask participants about their sexual orientation, the team had to conclude from the responses how many households with two same-sex adults were in relationships.

They calculated that about 28 percent of men and 11 percent of women were living in same-sex households as a couple. 

Next, they studied health insurance rates and how often medical care was received among this subset.

The researchers estimated that when living in a state where same-sex marriage was legal, gay men were six percent more likely to report having a regular health care provider and 12 percent more likely to report receiving a check-up in the past year. 

What surprised the team was that, although health insurance coverage and health care access improved for gay men, there were no improvements seen in health effects. 

For example, mental health did not improve nor did behaviors such as heavy drinking or cigarette smoking.

‘What was most surprising to me, I would have expected health behaviors to improve as access to healthcare for men of same sex households improved,’ lead author Dr Christopher Carpenter, a professor of economics at Vanderbilt University, told Daily Mail Online.

‘It could be that there’s not enough time to see these improvements in mental health since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015. 

‘It could also be that right after same sex-marriage was legalized, there was a lot of backlash which had bad effects on health.’

Additionally, there was not a significant impact seen for healthcare access to women when it came to marriage equality. Dr Carpenter said this could be due to shortcomings in the data.

‘It’s a bit more challenging to identify women in same-sex marriages,’ he said.

‘Women live together with other women for lots and lots of reason, not necessarily romantic, but so much in terms of men.’

He also added that women in same-sex partnerships were more likely to have children, often from a previous relationship, which might give them a motivation to seek legal marriage in another state.

‘It’s not just for social legitimacy but also  adoption rights, healthcare visitation,’ said Dr Carpenter.  

He added that the women who might move to another state wouldn’t be counted as having first lived elsewhere, making it harder to follow their health outcomes. 

‘If you live in Connecticut when same-sex marriage wasn’t legal, but then you go to Massachusetts where it is, and then back to Connecticut, you’re not accurately being measures in health outcomes for same-sex couples in Connecticut,’ Dr Carpenter explained.  


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