August 14, 2010

Researchers: Anti Same-Sex Ballot Measures have Negative Effects on Mental Health

Ballot measures opposing same-sex marriage have negative effects mental health not only for lesbian, gay and bisexual people but for their families of origin (i.e., parents, siblings and so forth), according to research presented at the convention Saturday.

Research conducted since 2000 by Glenda Russell, PhD, of the University of Colorado at Boulder has shown LGB people experience measurable shock, depression, anxiety, PTSD, anger and fear, and that that these people engage in cognitive and behavioral strategies to cope. More recently, Nathan G. Smith, PhD, of McGill University, studied LGB individuals living in Maine and Washington state, both of which had anti-gay constitutional amendments on the 2009 ballot. Although the Washington measure failed, Smith found that there were few differences in the stress felt by residents in both states. “People in Maine were engaging in more coping strategies than people in Washington,” he said.

Families of origin for LGB people also experience negative effects of such anti-gay ballot measures, according to research presented by Sharon G. Horne, of the University of Memphis. She and her colleagues looked at 198 family members from 41 states with anti-gay ballot measures in 2006. They found these family members experienced more stress than families without LGB members and that they also felt ambivalent and conflict as a result of the amendments.

Ellen Riggle, PhD, of the University of Kentucky presented data to demonstrate the failings of messages that attempt to paint same-sex couples as the same as opposite-sex couples. “The real issue is power and its distribution,” she said. Seventy percent to 80 percent of Americans now say they know someone gay or lesbian, yet two-thirds of voters vote for anti-gay measures, she said, “so there must be overlap” between people who know someone gay yet vote in favor of measures to restrict their rights. She advocated for more dialogue between gay and straight people in which gay people explain to heterosexuals the inequities that they face.