A self-reported study with n = 1

For some reason, it was the grocery store that did it.

In 2009, Maine passed a marriage equality bill through the legislature, and the governor signed it shortly thereafter.  That November, the bill was overturned in a “people’s veto” referendum.  Those of you who follow the issue closely and/or read this blog with any regularity know that already.  If you’re in that latter camp, you know that I worked hard on both the legislative piece and the follow-up “No on 1” campaign.  The Better Half and I were absolutely devastated by the results of that vote.

When we saw that the part of the state where we lived at the time had voted decisively in favor of repealing the law, it informed our decision to leave.  (As I’ve noted in previous discussions of these events, it wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big one.)  For me specifically, there was something unsettling about going to the grocery store and pushing our son around in the cart with the man who would be my husband and wondering what the people around us thought, and how many of them had voted to keep us second-class.  I had never felt that exposed before, but immediately after the vote I felt strangely vulnerable.  It was not a feeling I could imagine tolerating indefinitely.

With that in mind, when I heard this report about the mental health effects on gay people of marriage bans in their state, I could only nod:

Beginning around 2004, several states banned gay marriage. Just before that series of bans, the National Institutes of Health happened to conduct a massive of 43,093 Americans. The questions elicited detailed information about respondents’ mental health. (To validate what people reported about themselves, psychiatrists also interviewed samples of the people in the survey, and their medical diagnoses closely matched the findings of the survey.)

Soon after the wave of state bans on gay marriage, in 2004 and 2005, the NIMH conducted a second round of interviews, managing to reach 34,653 of the original respondents. (That’s a high rate compared to most polls and surveys.)


“Lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who lived in the states that banned same sex marriage experienced a significant increase in psychiatric disorders,” says.

“There was a 37 percent increase in mood disorders,” he says, “a 42 percent increase in alcohol-use disorders, and — I think really strikingly — a 248 percent increase in generalized anxiety disorders.”

To put those numbers in perspective, although Hatzenbuehler did find more than a doubling in the rate of anxiety disorders in states that eventually banned gay marriage, in absolute numbers he found that anxiety disorders went from being reported among 2.7 percent to 9.4 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

No surprise to me at all in those numbers.  In fairness, I haven’t actually read the study itself.  As with studies that tend to confirm my biases, and in this case my personal experience, I’m inclined to give them more credence than those that seem wrong on their faces.  YMMV.

But I remember the strange, ineffable feeling I would get when traveling in a state that had marriage equality and thinking “We could get married here.”  It made me feel oddly comforted, like we were safer and more welcome there.  And then we’d cross state lines and the feeling would evaporate.  Conversely, I feel distinctly insecure in states where there is a ban in their constitutions, and I frankly refuse any travel to (except transit through) the state of Virginia because of its ban on any legally-recognized contract between same-sex couples.

Of course, Maine’s story has a distinctly happy ending.  Last year we got a much better result at the p0lls.  And once again I was left with a feeling that was hard to describe.  The admixture of joy and gratitude, of feeling welcomed and celebrated by the people who surround us in our state and who voted to recognize our right to equal protection under the law, of unbelievable relief — I don’t really know how to put it in words.  It is a wonderful feeling, and one I hope everyone gets to feel everywhere one day.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I was listening to a Portland (Oregon, not Maine) radio station the other day and I heard the most wonderful commercial. It was for a thing called Zoom Care, but what made me happy was they chose to have two men who were very clearly a couple discussing their health care options :). It may be in our state constitution that marriage is between a man and a woman, but I think we have enough open minded people to get that changed.

      • I heard the same commercial Miss Mary and I’ve been trying to find it online to share with my out of state friends. If you happen to find a recording please let me know? Thank you much!

  2. Thanks for this post. Russell. Stories like this are the only way folks like me can begin to grasp the full dimensions of this issue.

  3. I admit (and I’m sure you’re not surprised) that I used to argue that Gay Marriage shouldn’t have been pushed through the judiciary but brought through the legislative branch.

    For what it’s worth, that seems like forever ago.

    For the life of me, at the time, I thought I was “helping”. Lord knows, looking back now, I have no idea what I was doing.

    Rights are Rights. You, seriously, have the Right to be Married to The Better Half. And anyone who got in the way of that should have been given exactly as much deference as anyone who wants to get in the way of anyone’s Rights: Diddly Squat.

    I know it sounds silly to say that I wish that people were different but, dude, seriously. I wish that people were different. You deserve to be Married. You are Entitled to it.

  4. Try living in an entire region that is completly opposed to your own point of view even the opposite side politicians are so similiar to be virtually useless, AND leaving the area means your chosen work options decline dramatically–like almost to nil.


    • Sorry, man. I don’t see the equivalence between having your political views inadequately represented by elected officials and fearing that you will be barred from the bedside of your partner because local law allows it.

      And I had to turn down the prospect of a good job at one point because the Better Half was told that, for his vocation in that part of the country, gay people need not apply. I’m not sure your experience is equally dire.

      • First off, it’s not “inadequately represented”. It’s not represented at all.

        How about being turned into a felon by an act of the legislature over a piece of property you own.

        How about a location that contains a college that has told african americans they were not subject to hiring because they were not “black” enough? “Black” being defined as a certain political orientation.

        Don’t think that I’m saying my situation is worse than yours, that was not my intent. You post was about “not feeling welcome”. My point was that I know what that feels like.

  5. I consider myself pretty non-emotional but when Minnesota passed it there was definitely emotions bubbling around in me. The night that the Senate passed the SSM bill the powers that be lit up the new bridge in Minneapolis over the Mississippi in all rainbow LEDs; it was a shimmering spectrum across the darkness thronging with ecstatic people, gay and straight, young and old. I felt things then too. There’s definitely something different about the state since then though for me it’s not so much a sense of warmth as a greater sense of impersonalness. The marriage clerk will look at me and my husband with as much professional boredom as he/she would anyone else. Now that’s a perverse thing to be comforted by.

    And Virginia has my personal invitation to sink into the sea. Maryland and the other neighboring states could use a nice body of water like that.

    • Minneapolis over the Mississippi

      Awesome Garrison Keillor musical. Saw it on Broadway. Loved it.

      Maryland and the other neighboring states could use a nice body of water like that.

      Chesapeake Bay’s not sufficient? Greedy bastards.

  6. For all that i complain about my country, at least *that* we did right. Gay marriage is permitted in Brazil. In 2011 our supreme court decided that any couple has the rights to all the benefits of cohabitation legislation – wich is marriage but in the name in legal terms, and in 2013 the supreme court approved a resolution that forces all brazilian registries to accept unions between members of the same sex, as that was viewed as a impediment to the resolution of 2011.

    No fuss, no discussion. The process that originated this was a process of discrimination, and the court decided that the law cannot discriminate people because of their sex, or who they choose to live with.

    I think that the closest paralel i can make to your story is a very poor one. I try my best o not be a racist, but it is something that is so ingrained in my development that sometimes i fail. I am also a atheist, and have been so for the most part of my life. And so, back in 1998 i went on to live in Alabama for a while as a exchange student. I had never so unconfortable around people, and i am not a ‘people’s person’. The open disdain for each other simply because they are of a different color, or they follow no religion is something very oppressive. I was openly accused by the family i lived with to be ‘speaking with black people’, wich prompted me to reply that ‘i would try my best to not let that diminish my opinion of the family i lived with even further.’

    In retrospect, nodding and weaving would have saved me a lot of headache.

    But anyway. I felt absurdly constrained living in a ambient so full of hatred, and i was not the target of such hatred. I can’t even begin to imagine what it *is* to be the focus of that. And the fact that the people around you actively voted to deny you one thing to wich all of them have granted makes you very aware of the fact that they consider you somehow inferior, and worse of all – that their opinion actually count for something.

    If it makes you unconfortable, moving away might be of help. You will still be surrounded b y idiots, but at least most of those idiots at least respect your choice – wich interestingly enough, has nothing to do with their lives.

    PS: Do not think about coming to live in Brazil. We may have universal gay marriage in law, but the rest of it is shit.

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