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Could Same-Sex Marriage Improve the Nation’s Health?

On election night voters in Maryland, Maine and Washington state voted in favor of same-sex marriage, the first time marriage equality has been approved by popular vote. Although same-sex unions have been legalized in six states and the District of Columbia by lawmakers, the voting public have consistently rejected passing approval for same-sex unions. This is clearly a tipping point in the national discourse over the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.

However, although recent estimates suggest that more than half of the American population approves of same-sex marriage, there is still much to be done before equality is achieved. Even with all the good news, more than 30 states have approved constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.  To date the debate over same-sex marriage has centered on equality – that my right to marry should be equal to the right of a Kardashian to marry anyone from the NBA. But is this more than a question of equity? Marriage provides legal protections, affords access to services and provides a source of social support – all of which may be protective of health. There is strong evidence that providing everyone with the right to marry is not only a question of equity, it is a pathway to improving the nation’s health.

Data from a range of studies confirm that marriage is good for you: in virtually every category, ranging from violent deaths to cancer, the unmarried are at far higher risk than the married. Marriage provides companionship, a social support system, someone to make you go to the doctor. “Marriage is sort of like a seat belt when it comes to improving your wellbeing,” says Dr. Linda Waite, Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago and author of The Case for Marriage.

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