Seattle’s Pride Parade is tomorrow, Sunday, June 25, and it has a great theme — Indivisible. Take the meaning of the theme as you like, but if there’s one thing that is true for Pride in Washington, it’s that there is an abundance of support. The majority of our people here, it seems to me, are building a community and will not be divided more. I feel so thankful to live in a community that is on its way to continuing to make all feel welcome, safe, and grounded in a sense of belonging.

As we come upon the 5th year since Washington State legalized same-sex marriage (woohoo!) it’s important to highlight the importance of what laws like this can do within the community. The legal changes here have had a lasting impact on thousands and thousands: there were approximately 15,750 same-sex marriages in Washington between 2012 and 2015.

These laws not only increase liberty and resources for families with same-sex couples, the laws may increase our community’s health and they may earnestly decrease suffering.

A study published by JAMA Pediatrics found that states with same-sex marriage policies had a 7% reduction in adolescent suicide attempts. The study analyzed data from 762,678 adolescents in 47 states between 1999 and 2015. Of the states included in the study, 32 permitted same-sex marriage and 15 states did not.

Evidence from nationally representative 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data indicates that more than 29% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students reported attempting suicide within the past 12 months, relative to 6% of heterosexual students.

Teen and Young Adult Suicide

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24 years (CDC data). When focusing more specifically at adolescents who identify as LGBTQ, teens unfortunately carry disproportionate suffering and anguish with elevated rates of suicide attempts (data finds teens identifying as LGBTQ may have 4-fold risk in acting on wanting to end their life). As a pediatrician and mom I am struck by this horrific disparity for teens who identify as LGBTQ.

Messages of non-belonging are everywhere (hate crimes, prejudice, homophobia, bullying) but thankfully legalization of same-sex marriage has been accompanied by media attention that may increase not only rights and services, but a sense of progress and belonging. The local and national attention on legalization of marriage have been shown to increase social support for the rights of the LGBTQ community. This is one reason I cover this issue a lot.

JAMA Pediatrics Study Findings

  • Same-sex marriage policies are associated with a 7% reduction in all high school students reporting a suicide attempt within the past year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens age 15 to 24 years of age. Although not perfectly clear why rates of thinking of ending a life is so much higher in LGBTQ teens, researchers explain, “Although it is unclear what drives greater rates of suicide attempts among adolescents who are sexual minorities, prior evidence suggests several potential mechanisms, including stigma. Link and Phelan defined stigma as the confluence of labeling, stereotyping, differentiation from the norm, status loss, and discrimination in the context of differential power. Stigma based on sexual orientation is associated with mental distress, anxiety and depression, and greater rates of suicide attempts.”
  • Approximately 134,446 fewer adolescents reported an attempted suicide each year. (wow)
  • The effects of legalized same-sex marriage persisted for at least 2 years after legalization.

What Does This All Mean?

  • Laws help shape culture. Culture helps shape belonging. Belonging helps shape our mental health. Implementation of same-sex marriage policies reduces adolescent suicide attempts in addition to increasing opportunities for families to have health care, pooled resources and legal support.
  • The hope is these expanding laws around same-sex marriage will continue to improve mental health outcomes and a sense of belonging for all teens and couples across the nation. The bigger hope is less teens think on or attempt ending their life and LGBTQ teen rates of suicide continue to diminish and diminish.