In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage must be available to gay and lesbian couples across the nation. But between 2004 and 2015, 35 states had already declared the practice legal, a move that not only put them on the right side of history but potentially saved hundreds of thousands of lives according to a new study, the Washington Post reports.
On Monday, researchers from Johns Hopkins and Harvard published findings that suggest that there's a link between legalizing same-sex marriage and a drop in attempted teen suicides, particularly for LGBTQ youth. Knowing that suicide affects gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens at four times the rate it does straight teenagers, researchers wanted to understand how the suicide rate was affected in different states, before gay marriage was legal nationwide.
Researchers scoured results from an annual CDC survey that studies health, diet, drug use, and sexual activity among American high schoolers. They reviewed the 762,678 responses between 1999 and 2015 and found that the number of students who reported having attempted suicide decreased by 7 percent after their states had legalized same-sex marriage. For LGBTQ students, that number decreased by 14 percent in the states that legalized the practice. Researchers found no change in the states that outlawed marriage equality until the Supreme Court ruling.
Although they can't apply any direct causation, researchers believe the drops have to do with stigma.
"Stigma is one of the most frequently hypothesized risk factors for explaining sexual orientation disparities in suicide outcomes," Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, a Columbia University professor not involved in the study, wrote in an editorial that was published alongside it. "[This study] suggests that structural stigma—in the form of state laws—represents a potentially consequential but thus far largely overlooked [factor in suicidal students]."
While one would extrapolate that making same-sex marriage legal across the country would lead to a drop in teen suicide rates nationwide, that hasn't necessarily been the case.
"There are major regional differences in whether your life has become better or worse," David Bond, vice president for programs at the Trevor Project, told VICE last year. "If you live in a major urban center, things have gotten better, because acceptance is on the rise and protective policies and interventions are going up. But that's not always the case in isolated, conservative communities."