Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=217267
Story Retrieval Date: 10/24/2014 7:00:34 AM CST

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New study reports that same-sex couples face health disadvantages due to the inability to get married.


Gay marriage: Not only a question of rights, but health.

by Donald Leonard
Feb 28, 2013


Same-sex cohabiters reported being less healthy than those in heterosexual marriages of the same socioeconomic status, according to a survey published Wednesday in the Journal of Health and Science Behavior.

“In general, literature states marriage is good for health,” said Hui Liu, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “We cannot expect the health benefits associated with marriage to occur for same-sex couples if they cannot get married.”

She said that although several reasons could explain the results, the inability to get married is one of the main reasons researchers believe same-sex cohabiters reported their health as being poorer than heterosexual married couples. 

The researchers obtained the data from National Health Interview Surveys of same-sex couples conducted from 1997-2009. In the surveys, over 3,000 NHIS respondents rated their overall health as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor. Researchers found that the odds of reporting poor or fair health was about 61 percent higher for same-sex cohabiting men and 46 percent for same-sex cohabiting women.

Researchers suggested that legalizing gay marriage could improve overall health of same sex couples.

They said the inability to legally marry presents barriers in obtaining health insurance benefits via an employed spouse. As a result, this could increase out-of-pocket costs linked with health care services and create a financial barrier to timely, high quality health care, the team said.

Researchers also reported that legalized gay marriage could improve same-sex self-rating because of psychological effects.

“Dealing with the social stigmas around same-sex couples is an issue," Liu said. “Legalizing gay marriage may reduce the stigmas of homosexuality which could then reduce the psychological affects on same-sex cohabiters.”

Brian Powell, a professor in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University in Bloomington, said Liu’s hypothesis is consistent with research he’s done.

He has found that only 33 percent of Americans considered same-sex cohabiters without children a family, compared to about 93 percent for heterosexual marriages without children.  But married same-sex couples were considered a family 66 percent of the time.

For unmarried same-sex couples with a child, 63 percent of Americans considered them a family. Nearly 100 percent considered heterosexual marriages with children a family, he said.  But for married same-sex couples with children, 80 percent considered them a family.

“Marital status means something,” Powell said. “It gives legitimacy and authenticity to couples.”

Liu said she’s unsure whether her research will be considered as support for laws legalizing gay marriage, but it is important data.

“This in one of the first national studies to use national data to examine same-sex couple’s health, and there are more to come,” she said.

One of the studies currently be researched is how overall health is self-rated in states that do allow gay marriage.