Washington D.C. [USA], Apr 16: Turns out, there really is such a thing as wedded bliss as a recent study has detected positive health outcomes among same-sex couples who have tied the knot. For years, studies have linked marriage with happiness among heterosexual couples and now, the University of Washington research is among the first to explore the potential benefits of marriage among LGBT couples.
The researchers found that LGBT study participants who were married reported better physical and mental health, more social support and greater financial resources than those who were single.
“In the nearly 50 years since Stonewall, same-sex marriage went from being a pipe dream to a legal quagmire to reality and it may be one of the most profound changes to social policy in recent history,” said lead author Jayn Goldsen.
Some 2.7 million adults ages 50 and older identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, a number that is expected to nearly double by 2060.
For the study, more than 1,800 LGBT people, ages 50 and older, were surveyed in 2014 in locations where gay marriage was already legal (32 states and Washington, D.C.). About one-fourth were married, another fourth were in a committed relationship, and half were single. Married respondents had spent an average of 23 years together, while those in a committed, unmarried relationship had spent an average of 16 years.
Among the study participants, more women were married than men, and of the respondents who were married, most identified as non-Hispanic white.
Researchers found that, in general, participants in a relationship, whether married or in a long-term partnership, showed better health outcomes than those who were single. But those who were married fared even better, both socially and financially, than couples in unmarried, long-term partnerships.
Single LGBT adults were more likely to have a disability; to report lower physical, psychological, social and environmental quality of life; and to have experienced the death of a partner, especially among men.
The legalization of gay marriage at the federal level opens up access to many benefits, such as tax exemptions and Social Security survivor benefits that married, straight couples have long enjoyed. But that does not mean every LGBT couple was immediately ready to take that step.
According to Goldsen, marriage, for many older LGBT people, can be something of a conundrum, even a non-starter. LGBT seniors came of age at a time when laws and social exclusion kept many in the closet. Today’s unmarried couples may have made their own legal arrangements and feel that they don’t need the extra step of marriage or they don’t want to participate in a traditionally heterosexual institution.
Goldsen also pointed to trends in heterosexual marriage: Fewer people are getting married, and those who do, do so later.
“More older people are living together and thinking outside the box. This was already happening within the LGBT community, couples were living together, but civil marriage wasn’t part of the story,” she said.
The different attitudes among older LGBT people toward marriage are something service providers, whether doctors, attorneys or tax professionals, should be aware of, Goldsen said. Telling a couple they should get married now simply because they can misses the individual nature of the choice.
“Service providers need to understand the historical context of this population,” she said. “Marriage isn’t for everyone. It is up to each person, and there are legal, financial and potentially societal ramifications.” For example, among the women in the study, those who were married were more likely to report experiencing bias in the larger community.
At the same time, Goldsen said, single LGBT older adults do not benefit from the marriage ruling, and other safeguards, such as anti-discrimination laws in employment, housing and public accommodations, are still lacking at the federal level. The findings are published in The Gerontologist.