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.