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Study: Legalizing Gay Marriage Brings Drop in Teen Suicides

A new study shows that in states where same-sex marriage was legalized, fewer gay teenagers have attempted to take their own lives. (DoroO/iStockphoto)
A new study shows that in states where same-sex marriage was legalized, fewer gay teenagers have attempted to take their own lives. (DoroO/iStockphoto)
February 22, 2017

HOUSTON – New research says state laws legalizing same-sex marriage have brought a reduction in suicide attempts among high-school students. The study particularly notes a decline in suicides among gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers in those states, prior to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling upholding gay marriage.

Advocates for the Texas LGBT community are hoping that trend will continue. Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, says laws granting civil rights can have a profound effect on a person's self-image.

"The larger takeaway is, this is a study that can begin to make a connection between policies or laws that either affirm or stigmatize people and their psychological and physical health," he said.

The study from Johns Hopkins University found in an average year, three in 10 gay teenagers attempt suicide, six times the rate for straight teens. But in states where gay marriage was legalized, there was a 14-percent drop in suicide attempts by gay teens. The authors say while the study doesn't directly link the two events, it suggests additional studies to see if the trend continues.

Smith says gay teens are often stigmatized or bullied because of their sexuality, and that laws granting them civil rights can make them more hopeful for the future, and less inclined to harm themselves.

"If laws and policies are enacted that are affirming of lesbian and gay people's sexual identity, that actually can have an effect of reducing the triggers that could negatively impact mental and physical health," he explained.

He says recent events in Texas confirm that acceptance, by the legal system and society, is critical to people who are gay.

"We saw in Houston after their non-discrimination ordinance was repealed, there was an increase in calls to suicide-prevention lines," he added.

The research, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, reviewed published data about more than 750,000 adolescents from 47 states, with 231,000 identifying themselves as gay. The researchers did not study transgender students.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - TX