SATURDAY, July 14, 2018 -- While the legalization of same-sex marriage improved gay men's chances of having both health insurance and access to health care, it didn't translate into better health, a new study suggests.
"We found that lesbian, gay or bisexual adults were more likely to get married after having access to legal same-sex marriage," said study co-author Gilbert Gonzales Jr., an assistant professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
"And for men, that is associated with a statistically significant increase in the probability that they have health insurance, have a usual source of care, and have a routine health check-up," he said in a university news release.
However, after analyzing 16 years of government data on Americans' health, Gonzales and colleagues found it wasn't associated with improved health among gay men.
"For example, mental health was not improved, and there were no changes in negative health behaviors such as cigarette smoking or heavy drinking," Gonzales explained.
"That might mean that it's too soon to see some of these changes, since legalized, same-sex marriage is a fairly recent phenomenon in the United States," he added. Same-sex marriage was established in all 50 states in June 2015.
The researchers said they were surprised to find that legalization of same-sex marriage did not lead to higher rates of health insurance and improved access to health care for lesbians, and they want to take a closer look at that.
They also said they plan to conduct more detailed data analysis, to determine if there are any other health benefits associated with legalization of same-sex marriage.
"If not, this suggests that same-sex marriage laws are not enough to positively impact the health of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people," Gonzales said.
"There is still a lot of room for change in the policy environment to ensure the safety and well-being of these populations, but more research is needed," he said.
Lead study author Christopher Carpenter is a professor of economics at Vanderbilt.
"This is an important question to study, since recent research has shown that LGBT individuals often face barriers to accessing health services, including lack of insurance, stigma and discrimination and, as a result, can experience poor health outcomes," said Carpenter.
The researchers said this is one of the first studies to examine how legalization of marriage can affect the health of LGBT people. It was published recently as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on LGBT health.
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