Gay marriage legalisation

High school students are less likely to commit suicide in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legalised, a new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests.

The data included 32 of the 35 states that enacted same-sex marriage policies between 2004 and 2015. The researchers used data from 1 January 1999 to 31 December 2015 to capture trends in suicide attempts five years before the first same-sex marriage policy went into effect in Massachusetts.

States with legalised same-sex marriage saw a 7% reduction in suicide attempts among high school students generally, and a 14% reduction in suicide attempts among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents. 

The states that did not implement same-sex marriage saw no such reduction.

On these figures, researchers estimated that positive same-sex marriage policies reduced adolescent suicide attempts by 134,000 per year.

The drop represented an even greater reduction among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents, which the authors say show the effect that social policies can have on behaviour.

“These are high school students so they aren’t getting married any time soon, for the most part,” study leader Julia Raifman told reporters.

“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 stigmatised and more hopeful for the future.”

After accidents, suicide is the second most common cause of death among people ages 15 to 24 in the United States. Suicide attempts requiring medical attention among adolescents rose nearly 50% between 2009 and 2015.

The study says nearly 29% of gay, lesbian and bisexual high school students reported attempting suicide in the previous year, compared to 6% of heterosexual teens.

“It’s not easy to be an adolescent, and for adolescents who are just realising they are sexual minorities, it can be even harder – that’s what the data on disparities affecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents tell us,” Raifman says.

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