Marriage Equality States Are the Healthiest States

People with a religious aversion to marriage equality sometimes offer up secular reasons against it.  I’ve seen this one many times:

  1. Premise:  Legalizing same-sex marriage will increase homosexual activity.
  2. Premise:  Homosexual activity is inherently harmful to one’s physical health.
  3. Conclusion:  Therefore, legalizing same-sex marriage is public health hazard.

You can argue with the truth of either premise, and you can dispute the logic of the conclusion, but I’d like to go another direction and point out that marriage equality states turn out to be the healthiest states.

The United Health Foundation has just released health rankings of the 50 states.  The top 5 are:

  1. Vermont
  2. New Hampshire
  3. Connecticut
  4. Hawaii
  5. Massachusetts

4 out of the 5 of the healthiest states are marriage equality states!  That’s all the more striking when you remember that only 6 states in the country have legalized same-sex marriage.  And all 6, by the way, are in the top of half of the health rankings.

Now don’t go all Yee-haw! on me yet.  You could raise a slew of objections to this, including:

  • Correlation does not imply causation.
  • The gay and lesbian population is too small to affect such a crude and broad measure as national rankings.
  • Same-sex marriage has not been in place long enough for its effects to appear.
  • Other factors — such as education, income, and demographics — could be responsible for these results.*
  • For all we know, those healthy states might even be healthier if they banned same-sex marriage.

Of course, this blade cuts both ways.

Politicians and business leaders have argued that banning same-sex marriage can hurt a state’s economy. They offer clear, causally-based arguments.  For instance, bans do harm because they make it hard for businesses in that state to attract the best talent. An executive with engine manufacturer Cummins, Inc., testified that a such a ban “jeopardizes our ability to be competitive in global markets.”

And how do opponents of marriage equality respond?  With the same, bogus argument-by-ranking I derided above. For instance, Maggie Gallagher writes that same-sex marriage bans can’t possibly hurt a state:

The top five states for income growth in that decade [1999-2009] are: Wyoming, North Dakota, Louisiana, Montana and Oklahoma. Four of the five states with the fastest income growth per capita have state marriage amendments, and none have gay marriage.

I laughed at Maggie’s naivete when I read that. The objections above to the physical health argument apply nearly word-for-word to her economic health argument. Maggie wondered, Why would a reputable company like Cummins Inc. embarrass itself in public by making such a ludicrous claim?  (by “ludicrous claim,” she’s referring to a causal argument based on direct experience that she hasn’t bothered to refute). In fact, Maggie’s the one who should be embarrassed.  And sadly, it’s not just Maggie.  Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-MN) recently offered up the same flawed reasoning, too.

So how should this analysis work? Social science is tricky because controlled experiments are often impossible to conduct. Instead, scientists use statistical analysis to try and isolate the impact of possible variables. My own training in econometrics has left me skeptical of this approach unless you’ve got mountains of data to work with. I don’t think we’re there yet.

Alternatively, you could deveop causal hypotheses to explain an interesting observation, and then test those hypotheses.  For instance, if you’re trying to determine whether same-sex marriage promotes public health you could test whether:

  • Married partners support each other’s personal health in ways unavailable to a single person.
  • It’s easier for married partners to both get health insurance than it is for a single person (i.e., spousal benefits).
  • Marriage can provide a stable and secure environment conducive to mental and physical health.

In fact, these and other causal factors have some empirical support — support that Maggie Gallagher herself has written about in a book she titled, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially (which makes her adamant opposition to marriage equality all the more distressing).

How about the claimed economic benefits of same-sex marriage? We’ve already seen one causal hypothesis above. There are others, too, also with some empirical support. And yes, Maggie has written about those as well.

By the way, Maggie’s coauthor on that project supports same-sex marriage.  It’s a bit of a shame — and quite revealing — that Maggie is willing to ignore her own research in favor of this new lame argument-by-ranking.   I suppose she’s working with what she’s got, and tossing the rest.

Despite all this, I suggest you keep these health rankings in mind. You’ll be able to shoot down anybody repeating Maggie’s bogus logic:

Your opponent:  The states with the healthiest economies have banned same-sex marriage!

You: The states with the best physical health allow it.

And when your opponent argues that things are more complicated than that, you can simply reply: Exactly.


*You could add access to health insurance to the list, but our conservative opponents probably wouldn’t highlight that.

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8 comments to Marriage Equality States Are the Healthiest States

  • 1
    BradP says:

    The income-growth argument is also stupid.  The states she lists are states that are poorer than the states with marriage equality.  So, great, their income grew at a faster rate, because the rich states had already plateaued.  China has far greater per capita income GROWTH than someone in Norway, but the life of a Norweigan is much richer and better than that of a Chinese person . . .

  • 2
    Regan DuCasse says:

     This is minutae really. In the COUNTRIES where marriage equality has been in effect for years, such as Canada and Spain, the quality of life hasn’t had any marked decline, nor anything directly attributable to said equality that created serious problems for any aspects of society.
       The typical complaint from those who wish to maintain discrimination, would and could ALSO apply to heterosexuals.  The exclusivity against gay people on which that discrimination rests, is essentially unworkable and creates more problems than discrimination could SOLVE.
    In other words, marriage discrimination does NOTHING to protect marriage, nor society to begin with and that’s why marriage equality doesn’t make a difference as far as detriment is concerned.
    The efforts towards discrimination is an exercise is some of the most expensive and useless laws ever. I’m sure to a racist, Jim Crow was a GREAT idea. But it never made white people BETTER people or created a BETTER society.

  • 3
    Dave says:

    The census also seems to knock out premise #1.  For years, the other side has been arguing that they can’t do anything that would “encourage homosexuality”.  Turns out there are just as many (and sometimes even more) same-sex-led families in states that are hostile to their rights as in those that are friendly.
    If such policies are supposed to discourage people from forming same-sex-led families, they don’t seem to be doing a very good job.  This is an important point to make with our opponents, because it reframes the debate: same-sex-led families are here, now, and discriminatory laws don’t seem to discourage them, nor do favourable laws encourage them.  What, then, is the purpose of punishing families?  
    If they can’t talk about “promoting” or “endorsing” or “encouraging” homosexuality, it’s pretty hard to argue that one child’s family should be treated worse under the law than another’s without sounding like they’re wishing hate on the kids themselves.

  • 4
    Chaddy says:

    I’m going to say coincidence, but not the pure-chance kind of coincidence.  Its completely relevant that these top 5 “healthiest” states are mostly dominated by progressive politics.  All 5 are noted as having high percentages of insured citizens beacuse of progressive policies with that outcome as the specific aim, which in turn leads to overall better outcomes in nearly all areas of healthcare.  Hence, they become the healthiest states.  In my opinion, the fact that these states are progressive also happens to mean that they are largely gay-friendly, which in turn means that they are willing to lead the way in reforming the system to be fair to their respective LGBT communites, just as they were willing to reform their healthcare systems to be fair to their respective populations.
    BTW, the one state out of the top 5 that is not a marriage equality state, Hawaii, which is my home, does atleast allow Civil Unions.  Not the same I know.  But many believe full equality is near.  So, in actuality, ALL 5 of the “healthiest” states are gay-friendly states!

  • 5

    […] previously taken a swipe at NOM’s ludicrous and simplistic analysis. Business climate depends on a myriad of factors […]

  • 6

    […] previously taken a swipe at NOM’s ludicrous and simplistic analysis. Business climate depends on a myriad of factors […]

  • 7

    […] as if there were no difference between correlation and causation, as if there weren’t other state rankings that turn their conclusions completely […]

  • 8

    […] as if there were no difference between correlation and causation, as if there weren’t other state rankings that turn their conclusions completely […]

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