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Here are all the ways marriage equality has been 'unambiguously positive' for America

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The study from the RAND Corp. comes 20 years after the first legal marriages for same-sex couples took place in Massachusetts.

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When marriage equality was but a dream, right-wingers alleged that somehow it would cheapen marriage. Twenty years after the first same-sex couples married in Massachusetts, a new study proclaims that’s not the case.

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“For LGBT individuals and same-sex couples, their children, and the general U.S. population, the benefits of access to legal marriage for same-sex couples are unambiguously positive,” says the study by the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization.

The study’s authors reviewed the existing research on the effects of marriage equality — 96 studies — and conducted their own new analyses. They found that “when states legalized marriage for same-sex couples, the physical health of LGBT individuals in those states improved; state-level rates of syphilis, HIV, and AIDS fell significantly; same-sex households in those states experienced more-stable relationships, higher earnings, and higher rates of homeownership; and sexual orientation–motivated hate crimes and employment discrimination against LGBT individuals declined,” the study says.

“Children of same-sex couples benefited when their parents were granted access to legal marriage, and state-level adoption rates rose after marriage became legal for same-sex couples,” it continues.

There was “no evidence for a retreat from marriage,” the study notes. “New marriages increased by 1 percent to 2 percent among different-sex couples and about 10 percent overall,” it says, and there was “no consistent evidence” that cohabitation increased among unmarried different-sex couples or that divorces increased as a result of marriage equality.

“Some of those who opposed the granting of marriage rights to same-sex couples predicted that doing so would undermine the institution of marriage, resulting in fewer couples marrying, more couples divorcing, and an overall retreat from family formation,” study coauthor Benjamin R. Karney said in a RAND press release. “Overall, the fears of opponents of same-sex marriage simply have not come to pass.” Karney is a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and adjunct researcher at RAND.

“We find no evidence for a retreat from marriage,” added coauthor Melanie A. Zaber, a RAND economist. “In fact, there is evidence suggesting that by extending marriage rights to a greater number of couples, interest in marriage increased. And that finding isn't limited to same-sex couples — this is also true for the broader population.”

The first state-sanctioned same-sex marriages took place May 17, 2004, in Massachusetts. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court had ruled in November 2003 that same-sex couples had the right to marry under the Massachusetts constitution. There was a six-month waiting period for the ruling to go into effect, during which four lawsuits sought to block it, but none succeeded.

After marriage equality became a reality in Massachusetts, more than 30 states and the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage, either by legislation or court action. A few states continued to ban it, but those bans were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Obergefell v. Hodgesruling in 2015. In 2022, Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which will protect marriage equality in federal law if the Supreme Court reverses itself — a real threat, given the conservative makeup of the court and the stated views of some justices, should a case involving marriage equality reach it.

The study further notes that states that acted early on marriage equality saw economic benefits. Brad Sears, a coauthor of the study and founding executive director of the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA’s law school, presented findings from the research Monday at Out Leadership’s US Summit 2024. Companies in states that had passed marriage equality saw an increase in their stock prices, and the number of applications filed for patents rose in those states, he reported.

“In a dollar-and-cents way, if people can bring their full selves to work, they tend to be happier, more creative, and participate more,” he said.

The full study can be downloaded here.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.