iStock.com/levers2007In case there was ever any doubt that legalizing same-sex marriage would result in positive changes for our society overall, a new study found that state marriage equality laws were linked to lower rates of suicide attempts among all high school students -- particularly (of course) among teens who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or unsure. And the numbers are fairly staggering: For every year that same-sex marriage laws were in place (in the years before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide), 134,000 fewer teens attempted suicide.
Conducted by researchers from Harvard and Johns Hopkins University, the study surveyed almost 800,000 students of all sexual orientations from 1999 to 2015, both before and after the legalization of same-sex marriage in 32 states. (Teen suicide attempts were also compared in states where gay marriage was legalized to those where it was not.)
Prior to legalization, approximately 9 percent of all teens and 29 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens had attempted suicide; after, suicide attempts fell to 8 percent among all teens and 25 percent among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth -- a seemingly small difference that actually works out to be, as stated above, a whopping 134,000 kids per year.
"These are high school students so they aren't getting married anytime soon, for the most part," said Julia Raifman, one of the study's authors and an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a statement.
"Still, permitting same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation. There may be something about having equal rights -- even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them -- that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future."
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Well, of course! How are kids supposed to feel good about themselves when they're growing up in a society that tells them they're not as good as everybody else? That they don't deserve something as basic and crucial as the right to marry someone they love? How are these kids supposed to feel whole when the world keeps telling them they're broken? 134,000 lives per year. It's unbearably tragic to realize that, as extrapolated from this study, so many teens were (and are) likely pushed to the point of wanting to end their lives over being consistently marginalized, condemned, and bullied. And it's unbelievably important that we recognize the profound effect systemic support can have on these kids.
Unfortunately, while Donald Trump has said that he's "fine" with the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage, there are still a lot of reasons why many people are worried about its potential repeal -- or laws that would infringe on couples' abilities to be afforded equal protection and rights.
Congress is currently considering an executive order that would allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples based on "religious freedom" -- even though this law was found unconstitutional by Mississippi courts.
Vice President Mike Pence has blamed gay couples for "societal collapse."
Trump's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, has raised red flags with LGBTQ groups for his questionable history: He sided with Hobby Lobby's conservative Christian owners when they sued the government seeking an exemption from the Affordable Care Act mandate requiring employers to provide birth control; he also openly praised Antonin Scalia, an opponent of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. (And, of course, as we all know, just because Trump says he's "fine" with something one day doesn't mean he's going to feel that way the next.)
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"Policymakers need to be aware that policies on sexual minority rights can have a real effect on the mental health of adolescents," said Raifman. "The policies at the top can dictate in ways both positive and negative what happens further down."
Yes. One would think -- or hope -- that lawmakers would understand how important LGBTQ rights are to the health and well-being of our children and families, and correspondingly make preserving those rights a priority ... but will they? Considering that this administration doesn't seem particularly concerned with our children's education or whether or not they have clean air to breathe, water to drink, and access to medical care, there is probably reason to worry.
Above all, however, there is reason to keep on fighting.