The nation’s second-largest physicians’ group has come out strongly in support of LGBT equality, criticizing discriminatory laws and calling for inclusive policies that will improve the health of the LGBT population.
In a position paper published earlier this week, the American College of Physicians decried the entrenched disparities faced by LGBT individuals and recommended specific approaches to improving LGBT health outcomes, like non-discrimination protections, comprehensive healthcare coverage for transgender people, inclusive visitation policies, and research and training to address LGBT health issues. Notably, ACP sided explicitly in favor of same-sex marriage, as well as LGBT individuals’ ability to determine who makes up their “families.”
Among other guidance, ACP included these recommendations:
- The definition of “family” should be inclusive of those who maintain an ongoing emotional relationship with a person, regardless of their legal or biological relationship.
- The American College of Physicians opposes the use of “conversion,” “reorientation,” or “reparative” therapy for the treatment of LGBT persons.
- The American College of Physicians encourages all hospitals and medical facilities to allow all patients to determine who may visit and who may act on their behalf during their stay, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status, and ensure visitation policies are consistent with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Conditions of Participation and The Joint Commission standards for Medicare-funded hospitals and critical-access hospitals.
- The American College of Physicians supports civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. The denial of such rights can have a negative impact on the physical and mental health of these persons and contribute to ongoing stigma and discrimination for LGBT persons and their families.
And it’s true: As ACP notes, research has shown that LGBT people living in states that ban same-sex marriage have “increases in general anxiety, mood disorders, and alcohol abuse,” specifically because of the stigma — and subsequent anguish — associated with singling out a group for unequal treatment under the law.
LGBT individuals also have markedly worse physical health outcomes, including higher rates of a number of chronic conditions, poorer self-reported health status, and higher prevalence and earlier onset of disabilities; they are also more likely to develop cancer and, subsequently, to die from it. Additionally, members of the LGBT community are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to delay or not seek care, to go without needed prescription medication and to receive health care in emergency rooms.
According to the ACP and other leading medical organizations like the American Medical Association, establishing equal marriage rights would help reduce these disparities and improve the health of LGBT people across the country. Marriage has been shown to lead to both physical and mental health benefits and a longer life expectancy, and experts say LGBT couples who have the same option to marry can expect long-term health benefits through the increase in social support, the financial benefits of marriage, decreased stigma and discrimination, and the protective effects of a stable relationship and increased intimacy.
“Marriage appears to confer a number of benefits, psychological and otherwise,” explained Dr. Letitia Anne Peplau, a social psychologist and researcher at UCLA. “There isn’t anything in the scientific literature that suggests that gay or lesbian people would benefit less or differently than heterosexual people from access to the institution of marriage.”
Predictably, studies of the impact of the legalization of same-sex marriage in other states already show health benefits.
In fact, marriage equality could have health benefits for the entire population: University of Texas sociologist Debra Umberson recently noted that “gay and lesbian spouses tend to be even more supportive” of one another than heterosexual spouses, specifically if one spouse faces a serious illness.
“Sometimes people talk as if marriage equality is all about giving gay and lesbian couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples,” Umberson wrote in a recent op-ed for the Austin-American Statesman. “That is important, of course, but equally important are the benefits that heterosexual couples may derive as we learn more about how men and women in same-sex unions promote healthy behaviors and supportive relationships. Securing marriage equality for gay and lesbian people can provide broader lessons about how to increase the health-building properties of marriage for all Americans.”