Marriage Equality is a Health Issue.

By Teresa Corbett

Fresh from the Cúirt festival that was held in Galway last week, I was eager to check out what’s on offer next week at the Galway Theatre Festival. One event in particular caught my eye and sparked a conversation that inspired this blog (Thank you Corinna Stewart!). On May 8th a production of Frankenstein will be held as part of the festival. I love Frankenstein. It’s one of my favourite books and it breaks my heart everytime I read it. It always makes me think about how we have the power to ‘other’ people, and the pain that ‘othering’ can cause. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend you check it out here.

With this in mind, I started to think about the upcoming referendum. On May 22nd the citizens of Ireland will be asked if they think that marriage should be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex. Rather than focusing on the usual “why should everyone be equal?” stance, I began to ask “Why should anyone be different?” And it led me to this blog. Because (always putting a health spin on things) I think that focusing on the differences between people promotes ill-health.

So I looked into it and here’s what I found.

Marriage is good for your health

  • People benefit by sharing their lives with and receiving support from their family, friends, and other people who are important to them (Cohen & Wills, 1985);
  • The debate surrounding policies to provide or deny same-sex couples full access to civil marriage has often raised questions about the human rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people (Gates, Badgett, & Ho, 2008; Hatzenbuehler, McLaughlin, Keyes, & Hasin, 2010; Herek, 2006; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2010; Rostosky, Riggle, & Horne 2009; Russell, 2000);
  • ac1a553d0c2b997fdf74f14ed03b79b9Married individuals generally receive social, economic, health, and psychological benefits from their marital status, including numerous rights and benefits provided by private employers and the government (Badgett, 2001; Brown, 2000; Chauncey 2005; Gove, Hughes, & Style, 1983; Gove, Style, & Hughes, 1990; Kiecolt-Glaser, 2001; Murray, 2000; Ross, Mirowsky, Goldsteen, 1990; Stack & Eshleman, 1998; Williams, 2003;
  • Single people there are less likely to have health insurance than married couples. Health insurance status is a key determinant of health care utilization (Anderson, Dobkin, & Gross, 2012)
  • Marriage seems to promote health behaviours (Aizer et al, 2013), including giving up smoking. Married people are more likely to have preventative health checks across a range of conditions—around 6% more likely to check their cholesterol or have a prostate or breast examination at the ages of 50-54 (Guner, Kulikova and Llull, 2014)

The stress of being different

  • Campaigns to deny same-sex couples legal access to civil marriage is a significant source of stress to lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. This can have negative effects on their well-being (Hatzenbuehler et al., 2010; Rostosky et al., 2009);
  • Anyone can be negatively affected by high levels of stress. Stress is often associated with symptoms of psychological or physical illness (Cohen, Doyle, & Skoner, 1999; Dohrenwend, 2000); Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, & Glaser, 2002);tumblr_inline_mn9q07AquA1qz4rgp
  • Denying marriage equality to these groups stigmatizes same-sex relationships. It can preserve the stigma attached to homosexuality, and result in prejudice against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people (Badgett, 2009; Herek, 2006; Hull, 2006);
  • Individuals with a homosexual or bisexual orientation are often exposed to “minority stress.” This type of stress is additional stress beyond that which is normally experienced by the heterosexual population. This is a consequence of stigma, discrimination, and violence (Badgett, 2001; Berrill, 1992; Herek, 2009; Herek, Gillis, Cogan, 1999; Mays & Cochran, 2001; Meyer, 1995; 2003; Meyer, Schwartz, & Frost, 2008);
  • Experiencing “minority stress” can lead to higher levels of illness or psychological distress in gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals (or sexual minority population), compared to the heterosexual population (Herek & Garnets, 2007; Mays & Cochran, 2001; Meyer, 1995; 2003);

And finally…

  • Policies that support lesbian, gay, and bisexual people’s human rights may have positive effects on their psychological and physical well-being (Blake, Ledsky, Lehman, Goodenow, Sawyer, Hack, 2001; Goodenow, Szalacha, & Westheimer, 2006;YesEquality-672x265

On May 22nd the citizens of Ireland will be asked if they think that marriage should be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex. For the reasons outlined above and for countless other reasons, I’m voting yes. And I hope you will too.

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