Chuck Colbert was already angry about not being able to marry his longtime partner, Troy Golladay. But when the Vatican released a statement in 2003 calling same-sex unions "gravely immoral," Colbert, then still a practicing Roman Catholic, saw his psychological and physical health decline. "It was chewing me up inside," he says. "I was very sluggish. I battled with either depression or seasonal affective disorder. I was nasty to other people. It was just poisonous."
That all changed after Colbert, 51, and Golladay, 38, were issued a marriage hcense just after midnight on May 17, 2004, in Cambridge--the first municipality in Massachusetts to issue licenses to same-sex couples. Soon Colbert and Golladay were in better mental and physical health, and the marriage allowed Colbert to get health insurance through Golladay's employer. "We now have a sense of security and place that we didn't have before," says Golladay, a marketing manager with the card company Hallmark.
The experience shared by Colbert and Golladay--mirrored by that of gay and lesbian couples around the world--hasn't gone unnoticed by academic and scientific researchers. Numerous scholarly books and research papers have been published in recent months demonstrating how allowing same-sex couples to marry produces positive health benefits for the couples--and how denying it has the opposite effect.
Researcher Darren R. Spedale spent two years in Denmark on a Fulbright scholarship researching same-sex partnerships, which have been legally recognized there since 1989 and provide most of the benefits of marriage. His new book, Gay Marriage: For Better or for Worse? What We've Learned From the Evidence, coauthored by Yale Law School professor William N. Eskridge Jr., is one of the first to present empirical evidence about the effects of legalized same-sex partnerships. "What we found is the legal benefit of marriage leads to an emotional benefit of security," Spedale says.
Public recognition also brought many couples out of the closet, says Eskridge. "The couples were more out to their families, their communities, their coworkers. And psychological literature suggests that how open you are, how comfortable you feel in your community, is strongly linked to having a better self-image and other health effects."
Right-wing religious leaders like to argue that allowing gay couples te marry will lead to an erosion of the institution of marriage, Eskridge adds. But in Denmark, among heterosexuals, rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births have actually gone down since 1989, while marriage rates have gone up.
Eskridge and Spedale also found that legal recognition of same-sex unions has an impact on public health. Countries that recognize same-sex couples have had lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. "When we asked couples how being married has affected their lives, a common answer was that it made them monogamous," says Spedale. "But even those couples who are nonmonogamous report that they are more careful with their outside activities. They want to protect their partner and don't want te bring anything home."
Stuart Gaffney married his partner of 19 years, John Lewis, in San Francisco after Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing marriage licenses to gays in February 2004. "For the first time in our lives, we experienced being treated equally under the law," says the 43-year-old Gaffney, a policy analyst at the University of California, San Francisco's Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. "We literally felt years of shame lifting with the realization that now we were being treated as equals. It was a utopian moment for us."
But after a court ruled their marriage invalid--along with all of the San Francisco same-sex marriages--a few months later, "we felt that sense of shame placed right back upon us," Gaffney says.
In places where same-sex marriage is denied or banned, gay couples can feel "minority stress," says Ellen D. …