Will same-sex marriage make America healthier?

Story highlights

  • Marriage provide health benefits, including lower rates of anxiety and depression
  • Researchers say federal recognition of same-sex marriage will reduce stigma

(CNN)A few weeks ago, Carlos Santos-Herrera was in a hospital bed, ill with a rare, severe form of strep throat. He was weak, but conscious -- and worried. His family members' religious beliefs differ from his own, and he didn't want to leave decisions about his care in their hands.

His partner, David Herrera-Santos, was unable to make any decisions on his behalf because they weren't legally married, and couldn't be in their home state of Georgia, where same-sex marriage wasn't legal.
"He was powerless. Completely powerless," Santos-Herrera said. "The hospital would not recognize David as my partner -- only as a 'friend.' "
    He survived the medical scare, but it was on his mind last week when the pair embraced as newlyweds on the steps of an Atlanta courthouse. After a Supreme Court decision made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, David and Carlos married and are now able to enjoy legal benefits including decision-making power in health care and changes to their health insurance.
    They believe these changes will help keep them healthier and less stressed, but what about the rest of the country? Will same-sex marriage make America healthier?
    The short answer, experts said, is yes.
    "Absolutely same-sex marriage will make America healthier -- that's what all the medical literature says," said Dr. William C. Buffie, a physician at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, who researched public health implications of same-sex marriage.

    Happy marriages can improve health

    Little research exists specifically about same-sex marriages, and because it's challenging to determine the number of people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, it's not clear how many people will be affected by Friday's Supreme Court ruling.
    But numerous studies have shown that a happy heterosexual marriage gives individuals a health boost, including better access to health care, longer life spans, and lower rates of depression -- and, Buffie said, that applies to same-sex marriage, as well.
    "As it relates to health outcomes, same-sex couples benefit from marriage in the same way as opposite sex couples," Buffie said.
    Numerous scientific associations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have acknowledged potential health benefits that same-sex marriage confers to individuals and families.
    Some of the groups tweeted their support Friday:
    Those health benefits are becoming clear in states where same-sex couples already had legal marriage status, researchers found. Same-sex couples who were married reported significantly better mental well-being, including less anxiety and depression.
    People in same-sex marriages also benefit from improved access to employer-provided health care, according to a 2013 study from the University of Minnesota.
    Although the tax and economic benefits could be substantial, the Supreme Court's ruling will do more than provide couples with an official piece of paper, said Richard Wight, a researcher in the community health sciences department at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health.
    "In one fell swoop we can now see the same mental health benefits of marriage for same sex couples as heterosexual couples," Wight said.
    "The main reason there is a benefit to being in a legally recognize