Teen Suicide Rates Went Down In States With Marriage Equality, Study Finds
Sixteen-year-old Alex says Australia's same-sex marriage ban is "dehumanising".
A new US study has found that teenage suicide attempts declined in states where same-sex marriage was legalised, with the greatest positive impact on kids who were gay, lesbian, and bisexual.
The study, published in JAMA Paediatrics, analysed data on more than 700,000 high school students from 1999 to 2015. The data was collected in the years leading up to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2015.
In the states where same-sex marriage was made legal, suicide attempts dropped by 7% among the general population surveyed, and by 14% among kids who were gay, lesbian, and bisexual.
In states where same-sex marriage remained illegal, there was no change.
Wedding bells are some time away for Alex, a 16-year-old Melbourne student.
He's just started Year 11 at a Melbourne high school, where he is focusing on his favourite subjects: literature and maths.
In his spare time Alex, who is transgender and pansexual, is an advocate for the LGBTI community, and he is passionate about the issue of legalising same-sex marriage in Australia.
He told BuzzFeed News that even though LGBTI teens were not likely to be looking to marry any time soon, the message sent by the law was "dehumanising".
"Looking to the future and thinking, 'Wow, I can't be normal, I can't get married, I can't live with a person my whole life knowing that I have their last name, or they have mine, just because it's a same-sex relationship'," he said.
Alex grew up repeatedly hearing the same narrative about how his life would unfold: he would get older, marry, have a nice family, and be happy.
"But when I realised I wasn't straight, and having to go through all the denial... I was devastated," he said.
"I can say that was one of the main reasons I denied being queer."
The issue of youth suicide has been discussed frequently in the debate over same-sex marriage in Australia, which is currently at a political impasse despite majority support among the public and in the parliament.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten spoke about LGBT youth suicide as he introduced a private member's bill for same-sex marriage to the parliament last year.
“Every piece of expert advice tells us young Australians who are gay are more likely to contemplate suicide – and more likely to take their own lives,” he said.
“Let me be as blunt as possible. A ‘No’ campaign would be emotional torment for gay teenagers. And if one child commits suicide over the plebiscite – then that is one too many.”
He was criticised by government MPs and conservative media at the time, who said he was effectively blackmailing those who preferred the matter to be settled by plebiscite.
The CEO of Melbourne-based LGBTI youth group Minus18, Micah Scott, told BuzzFeed News he wasn't surprised by the findings published in JAMA.
"Consider growing up merely trying to work out your identity or sexuality, and knowing from the get-go that your sexuality and your identity isn't seen as equal, isn't as valid," he said.
"Those thoughts of negativity run through your head when you're trying to figure yourself out."
Scott said that while same-sex marriage was not the biggest issue for most LGBTI young people, it did "play on their mind".
"We have seen such a huge shift in positive media representation of LGBTI people, particularly in popular culture, and the positive impacts that has made. In Australia we look to our government and it's been very stagnant."
But Alex, who wants to become a paramedic after finishing high school, was optimistic about the prospects for same-sex couples in Australia.
"Whatever's going on, it'll be OK in the future, because whatever is right is going to happen in the end," he said.
"Hopefully we'll be able to marry soon."
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit Lifeline.org.au.