Same-sex marriage legalization boosts satisfaction
March 4, 2019
After the 2015 United States Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, the LGBTQ community was given a freedom which increased life satisfaction, emotional well-being and family support, according to a study published by University professors.
Professors Brian Ogolsky, Ramona Faith Oswald and TeKisha Rice surveyed 279 individuals in committed same-sex relationships and 266 individuals in heterosexual relationships four months before, and then two weeks, three months and one year after the 2015 decision.
In the first of two papers published in the study, the professors found on average after the Supreme Court ruling, life satisfaction increased and psychological distress decreased noticeably among same-sex couples.
“It is demeaning and exhausting to have people argue about whether or not you and your partner are socially legitimate, and there were so many burdens for same-sex couples trying to manage rights and benefits without marriage,” Oswald, professor in ACES, said in an email.
Sean Netemeyer, sophomore in LAS who identifies as gay and whose biological mother is married to a woman, agreed with Oswald’s contention that denying rights to fundamental social institutions like marriage can have damaging effects on those being discriminated against.
“A lot of experts on these issues will tell you that to abstain from actually giving people the right to marry regardless of who they choose to love is doing a harm and disservice to them as a person emotionally and psychologically,” Netemeyer said. “If you’re telling this person what their limitations are based on what they don’t choose, that can cause trauma.”
Netemeyer said the ruling was a cause for celebration for many in his life but also a point of confusion as to why the decision was so contentious.
“My two moms have been married for five or six years now, together longer obviously,” Netemeyer said. “They always talk about how it doesn’t make a difference that they’re gay. It’s still the same process of marriage at the end of the day. They just happen to be two women doing it.”
Chester Wilson, student in LAS who identifies as gay and was adopted by a gay couple, said the ability for present and future same-sex couples to get married without the fear of official reprimand or disparity in legal status across states is incredibly empowering.
“If I ever choose to get married, I could with the approval of my government, and no single person would be able to tell me I can’t,” Wilson said. “The stigma and uncertainty around that issue has definitely gone down.”
The second paper in the study focuses on the health of heterosexual relationships and the support system around same-sex couples before and after the legalization.
The paper found no evidence heterosexual couples’ life satisfaction and psychological health were negatively affected by the decision, and researchers also found concrete family support for same-sex couples increased on average after the decision.
This short-term change in attitudes reflects a longer ongoing trend in the support for same-sex people and partnerships in the U.S. Support for gay marriage has increased significantly, from around 40 percent in 2008 to 67 percent in 2018, according to a national poll by Gallup.
Oswald said a main factor in greater family support for same-sex couples comes from more people coming out and expressing their concerns to their families who might have been previously unaware of the issues.
“Knowing someone makes the issue more real — you can see how someone you care about is, or could be, harmed by stigma,” Oswald said. “If you care about them, then you don’t want them to hurt, and so you come to recognize and challenge anti-LGBT stigma.”
Netemeyer said his own experiences show how people can change and soften their stances if they meet and become friends with someone who identifies as LGBTQ.
“There have been some instances where people I know have changed their minds because of that personal relationship,” Netemeyer said. “You want to be in that person’s life, you love that person, and while them being gay may be a flaw to you at the time, a lot of people can have those conversations and move toward loving all parts of that person.”
Wilson contends more media friendliness to gay issues and providing representation through LGBTQ characters and plotlines in TV shows and movies has also helped to banish stereotypes and move issues forward.
Oswald said she hopes the study will provide further validation to the idea of greater inclusivity and welcoming public environments for all.
“Same-sex couples are valid regardless of science or morals — it is a basic human right to form families, and same-sex couples exist regardless of whether a person or group approves,” Oswald said. “What studies such as ours can provide is documentation of the good that flows from social inclusion and the bad that results from being marginalized.”
Wilson said for a future that’s more inclusive and accepting of differences, it’s the responsibility of adults to educate future generations appropriately.
“Make it something that’s humanized, not villainized,” Wilson said. “We need to see more gay people in our cartoons, on Disney Channel, in history books. Start from the bottom up and focus on the people who’ll be running the world in the next 10 years to create a less prejudiced environment.”