Amendments that restrict marriage rights for same-sex couples spark psychological distress among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults and their families, find three studies in January's Journal of Counseling Psychology (Vol. 56, No. 1). Researchers say an increase in exposure to negative conversations and media messages about same-sex marriage creates a harmful environment for the LGBT population that may affect their health and well-being.
In one study, University of Kentucky psychologist Sharon Scales Rostosky, PhD, surveyed more than 1,500 lesbian, gay and bisexual adults across the nation and found that respondents from the 25 states that have outlawed same-sex marriage had the highest reports of "minority stress"—the chronic social stress that results from minority-group stigmatization—as well as general psychological distress. The negative campaigning that comes with a ban is directly responsible for the increased stress, says Rostosky. Past research has shown that minority stress is linked to health risks such as risky sexual behavior and substance abuse.
Two other studies examined personal reports from LGBT adults and their families living in Memphis, Tenn., immediately after a successful 2006 ballot campaign banned same-sex marriage. Most respondents reported feeling alienated from their communities, afraid that they would lose custody of their children and that they might become victims of violence. The studies also found that families experienced a kind of secondary minority stress, says Jennifer Arm, a counseling graduate student at the University of Memphis.
In the wake of the recent passage of same-sex marriage-banning legislation in Arizona, California and Florida, Rostosky says she expects similar trends to emerge. In California, which overturned its same-sex marriage ban in June only to have that decision reversed in November, the LGBT community is riding an emotional roller coaster, she says.
"The stories of same-sex couples who have married in California make it clear that they are feeling very betrayed, angry, confused and anxious," Rostosky says.