The Liberty Counsel, a Christian law firm and affiliate of Liberty University, has submitted an amicus brief urging Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. Among the reasons for maintaining the ban, they argue, is that there are “inherent harms associated with same-sex unions.”
Though the Liberty Counsel brief refers to higher transmission rates of HIV and other STD’s among men who have sex with men, the group concludes, “The nature of the sexual acts in which same-sex couples engage carry health risks that are not as prevalent, or in some cases, not present at all, in heterosexual individuals.”
Citing various health reports, the brief highlights a number of health concerns that are unique or specific to the LGBT community, including lower life expectancy, suicide, higher rates of substance abuse, depression, inadequate access to care, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, certain cancers, and eating disorders. The Liberty Counsel, which was recently designated as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, seems to be arguing that continuing to prevent same-sex couples from marrying will somehow limit how much sex they have:
The personal, social and financial costs of these homosexual-specific health problems concern not just those who engage in homosexual activity, but also the larger community of citizens who help provide services and who must bear part of the burdens imposed by the health challenges. It would be rational for the voters of Michigan to seek to minimize the deleterious effects of these conditions on public health, safety and welfare by affirming that marriage in Michigan remains the union of one man and one woman.
ThinkProgress reached out to the Liberty Counsel Friday morning for clarification as to how maintaining the status quo for marriage might impact the health of people who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Mandi Campbell, a litigator for the organization, explained that in general, homosexuals cannot — or at least do not — commit to relationships that are both exclusive and permanent. Thus, they cannot enjoy the benefits of marriage. The government’s actions communicate what is “right and wrong” and “good and bad,” and so because of the health consequences associated with gay sex, it should not encourage or endorse that behavior. Campbell confirmed that the Liberty Counsel believes that even though banning same-sex marriage will not change the number of people who identify as gay, it will discourage people from engaging in same-sex sexual behavior.
Studies confirm that people with same-sex orientations experience unique health concerns, but rather than being connected to their orientation and sexual behavior as the Liberty Counsel asserts, the health inequities are related to the discrimination and stigma against homosexuality. For example, a recent study found that people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and live in a community with lots of anti-gay prejudice have a shorter life expectancy by about 12 years compared to those who live in more welcoming communities. This distinction was independent of other mortality differences observed between the communities.
The same researcher found in 2011 that gay, bisexual, and lesbian teens who were living in unwelcoming communities were 20 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than similarly situated teens in more welcoming communities. Another study found that coming out helps improve people’s mental health, but if parents are not supportive when they do, it can lead to higher rates of depression, alcohol abuse, and drug use. Experiencing anti-gay stigma at a young age can even contribute to suicidal ideation and related health concerns over an entire lifetime.
Particularly relevant to the Liberty Counsel’s argument are studies that have demonstrated specifically how marriage has implications on the gay community’s health. One study found that in the 13 states that banned same-sex marriage in 2004 — including Michigan — there was a sharp increase in psychological disorders among LGB people in the years thereafter. In contrast, other studies have found that having access to marriage improves both the mental health and physical health of same-sex couples.
This post has been updated to include the response from the Liberty Counsel.