March 13 2013 12:00 AM

Right to walk down the aisle may lead to better health for LGBT community, MSU researcher says

Hui Liu. Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

Wednesday, March 13 — Legalizing “I do’s” for everyone may be the difference between good and bad health. New research from Michigan State University uncovers the noticeable differences between the health of a cohabitating same-sex couple and their heterosexual counterparts who are married.

MSU sociologist Hui Liu has researched health and marital status for nearly 10 years. Liu’s most recent study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, finds that same-sex couples living together are less healthy than married heterosexual couples of the same socioeconomic standing.

While the study does not explicitly research how health may change as marriage policies change, the study implies that legalizing same-sex marriage could improve the health of same-sex couples.

“Legal unions mean extra health care benefits are available to couples, which are not available to couples who just live together,” Liu said. In addition, the marriage between same-sex couples is not legally recognized in the majority of states. If same-sex couples who have wed move to a state where their marital status is not recognized, the shared health benefits disappear.

Medical benefits for physical illnesses are not the only factors in the differences of a married or unmarried couple’s well being. Psychological support is also an important part of why same-sex couples may be worse off than their heterosexual equals.

“The stigma and stress of living as a same-sex couple adds to the increased health disparity of this population,” Liu said.

The research also uncovered that those with the worst health are black lesbian women living with their partners. “This may be because they suffer from deeper stigma from family and friends than other communities.” Liu said.

“The amount of black women is increasing in health disadvantage and more research is being done to find out why. The research will hopefully help develop things that will promote better health,” Liu said.

The study, which used 700,000 subjects and health surveys from 1997 to 2009, brings to light the impact that legalizing marriage can have on the availability of health resources for people.