After Marriage, 134,000 More Young People Are Surviving Each Year

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March 16, 2017

We won marriage equality with a sweeping decision affirming the dignity and worth of LGBT people.

It's never been about "just marriage" — and a new report in the Pediatrics Journal of the American Medical Association makes that point again. Data across the nation shows that equal rights to marriage are "associated each year with more than 134,000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide" and that "[t]he effect of that reduction was concentrated among adolescents who were sexual minorities." 

Each year of justice corresponds to about 134,000 young people who are safely with us, rather than attempting suicide.

Suicide remains the second leading cause of death in young people 15 to 24. Using data compiled from 1999 through 2015, Julia Raifman of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and her coauthors analyzed changes in rates of suicide attempts among public high school students before and after marriage equality reached 32 states. They compared suicide attempts in 15 states that still discriminated. In states with marriage equality, thousands more young people turned away from suicide.

Our movement's message is the inherent worth of LGBT people.

Our movement's message is the inherent worth of LGBT people. We couldn't guarantee it would save 134,000 young people from suicide attempts each year, but we are not surprised.

Throughout our work, we see the damaging impact on young people of disrespect, disbelief and disregard for who they are and for their families. One of my youngest clients in Lambda Legal's New Jersey marriage victory — a deeply loved and well-supported middle-schooler — explained in his deposition how his friend, learning his mothers weren't married, told him she figured he was "a bastard," and that he sadly concluded he had to agree. 

Less protected young people experience far worse.

After Lambda Legal co-sponsored the first state law against "conversion therapy" for minors, we succeeded in helping to defend it — with a brief analyzing interviews we conducted of counselors, crisis hotline specialists and other professionals who worked to save lives of young people devastated by baseless, dangerous attempts to turn them straight. The descriptions of anguish, cutting and suicidality fed into a shattering brief one government attorney said she could not read in one sitting. Our opponents fought tooth-and-nail, opposing our even being permitted to file.

Our work — including but never limited to our marriage wins — exists because lives hang in the balance. Now we know yet one more way that's true.