Legalising gay marriage caused dramatic fall in suicides, study finds

Homophobic stigma remains a factor, warn experts

Jon Sharman
Friday 15 November 2019 12:56 GMT
Same sex marriage was legalised in Ireland in 2015
Same sex marriage was legalised in Ireland in 2015

Being allowed to marry has led to a drop in the number of gay men and lesbians taking their own lives in two Scandinavian countries, according to a study.

A 46 per cent fall in suicides among people in same-sex marriages was recorded by comparing two time periods in Denmark and Sweden – from 1989 to 2002, and 2003 to 2016.

Researchers said that reduced stigma around homosexual relationships was likely to be among the reasons for the drop.

“Being married is protective against suicide,” said Annette Erlangsen of the Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention. “Legalising same-sex marriage and other supportive legislative measures – they might actually reduce stigma around sexual minorities.”

Same-sex marriage was made legal in 2009 in Sweden and 2012 in Denmark. The unions are now legal in 27 countries, 16 of them in Europe. Ecuador became the latest nation to permit them, in June this year.

However, people in same-sex marriages still took their own lives at more than twice the rate of those in heterosexual unions across both periods, reinforcing research from other countries that points to a higher incidence of suicide attempts among LGBT+ people.

Young LGBT+ people are at least three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, according to 35 studies from 10 countries collated by researchers in 2018.

Dr Erlangsen’s study, which followed more than 28,000 people in same-sex unions for an average of 11 years, found married lesbians were 2.8 times as likely to die by suicide as women in straight marriages, and slightly more likely than straight, married men. Men in gay partnerships were most likely to kill themselves.

“There still remains a considerable degree of homophobia, particularly against male homosexuals,” said Morten Frisch, of Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut, a research body. “Just under one in three men still consider it morally unacceptable that two men have sex with each other,” he said, citing a survey of more than 62,000 Danes released in October.

Additional reporting by the Thomson Reuters Foundation

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