Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why Same-Sex Marriage Laws Matter

According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults. Those rates are even higher among individuals who identify as LGBT. But a recent study out of Johns Hopkins University found that legislation to legalize same-sex marriage is connected to a 14% drop in suicide attempts among LGBT teens:
Researchers say suicide attempts among high school students fell by an average of 7% following the implementation of the legislation. The impact was especially significant among gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers, for whom the passing of same-sex marriage laws was linked to a 14% drop in suicide attempts.

Julia Raifman, co-author of the research from Johns Hopkins University, said she hoped the research would help to draw wider attention to the scale of the issue among sexual minorities. “I would hope that policymakers and the public would consider the potential health implications of laws and policies affecting LGBT rights,” she added.
The study uses data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a large survey conducted every 2 years by the CDC. 32 of the 47 states included in the study have same-sex marriage policies, so the researchers were able to look at trends across time (before and after the legislation passed) as well as between states that have legalized same-sex marriage and states that haven't. A secondary analysis was conducted looking specifically at sexual minorities. They identified a respondent as a sexual minority if he or she responded as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or not sure, when asked “Which of the following best describes you?”

The study looked specifically at suicide attempts because that information is captured in the data; a participant who succeeded obviously can't respond to a survey, but the study still provides important data that demonstrates why this legislation is so important. Even among teenagers who didn't identify as a sexual minority on the survey, suicide rates were lower in states with legal same-sex marriage. The teenage years are a difficult time, where people are still trying to figure out who they are. Even if they aren't struggling with their sexual identity, it's a still a time of struggle with greater identity, and legislation that demonstrates acceptance would probably help any teenager struggling with his/her identity to feel validated. Based on their study, they estimate a decrease of 134,000 suicide attempts by adolescents each year.

The main issue with the study is an issue with any studies using survey data: response bias. There could be bias in who responds to the survey as well as how honest they are in their responses. If anything, the survey will likely underestimate both the proportion of teenagers identifying as a sexual minority and the proportion of teenagers who have attempted suicide; not everyone will feel comfortable sharing that information, regardless of whether the survey is anonymous.

The full-text of the study is available at the first link above.

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