Study outlines positive impact of 20 years of marriage equality in America

Jane Abott Lighty (Left) and wife Pete-e Peterson (rght) were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage License in the State of Washington in 2012.
Jane Abott Lighty (Left) and wife Pete-e Peterson (rght) were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage License in the State of Washington in 2012.
Flickr/Brett Curtiss

New research released 20 years after the first same-sex marriage ceremony in America shows that the expansion of marriage rights to LGBTQ people has translated into positive outcomes for queer people as well as the general US population.

The first same-sex marriages were performed in Massachusetts in 2004, and the marriage equality movement became a patchwork system — with only certain states legalizing it — until the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in June of 2015, just over four years to the day after New York State made same-sex marriage a reality.

Two decades after Massachusetts set the wheels in motion for marriage equality, the RAND Corp. analyzed 96 studies dating back 20 years and performed their own research on the impact of marriage equality on household stability, health, and economic well-being of LGBTQ individuals. The evidence overwhelmingly led researchers to believe that both queer people and the general population had positive outcomes.

The overall physical health of LGBTQ people improved, while rates of syphilis and HIV/AIDS dropped. Households led by same-sex individuals had more stable relationships, earned more money, and enjoyed higher home ownership rates. At the same time, crime targeting individuals on the basis of sexual orientation — as well as employment discrimination — also went down.

The study also dispelled the notion that same-sex marriage would have any negative effect on straight marriages. New marriages among different-sex couples increased 1-2% and marriages increased by 10% overall. The study also found that states saw more marriages than usual once they legalized same-sex marriage.

“We find no evidence for a retreat from marriage,” Melanie A. Zaber, a co-author of the report and a RAND economist, said in a written statement. “In fact, there is evidence suggesting that by extending marriage rights to a greater number of couples, interest in marriage increased. And that finding isn’t limited to same-sex couples—this is also true for the broader population.”

In December 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law, formally repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and protecting same-sex and interracial marriages against future efforts by the Supreme Court to overturn the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that gave marriage rights to queer couples nationwide. While the law would not require states to issue marriage licenses if the Supreme Court overturned Obergefell, it would require them to recognize marriages performed in states where marriage equality is the law.