County Fair

What NOM Gets Wrong About The New Danish Marriage Study

June 13, 2013 3:00 pm ET by Carlos Maza

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is touting a new study from Denmark which allegedly finds that the health benefits of marriage are exclusive to heterosexual relationships. But NOM’s analysis ignores several important details about the study, some of which actually point to the importance of allowing same-sex couples to marry.

In a June 12 blog post titled “New Danish Study of 6.5 Million: Health Benefits of Marriage are Unique to Male-Female Unions,” NOM touted a nearly 30-year study that compared the mortality rates of different relationship structures and concluded that “married” same-sex couples fared worse than married heterosexual couples. According to one anti-gay blog quoted by NOM:

[This study] does suggest that the health benefits of marriage may be unique to the male-female union. Governments may try to legislate a revised version of “marriage,” but they cannot legislate the health and longevity benefits that come from a man marrying a woman.

NOM’s analysis of the study ignores several important details:

1. The Study Didn’t Examine Married Same-Sex Couples: Despite the language used by NOM, the research actually compared married heterosexual couples and same-sex couples in registered partnerships, which offer many but not all of the same rights and privileges as marriage. Same-sex marriage only became legal in Denmark in June 2012, nearly a year after the study’s conclusion. As Box Turtle Bulletin’s Rob Tisinai pointed out, the study is more of an indictment of the shortcomings of civil unions than an attack on marriage equality.

2. “Married” Gay Men Experienced Significant Health Improvements: NOM fails to acknowledge that, while lesbian married couples didn’t experience improved mortality rates after marriage, the study found that “married” male same-sex couples enjoyed decreased mortality rates when compared to non-married males:

In other words, even in the case of registered partnerships, male couples who had their relationships legally recognized experienced significant health benefits.

3. Same-Sex Couples Still Faced Significant Discrimination: NOM’s analysis also ignores that, even in Denmark, same-sex couples continued to face anti-gay discrimination over the course of the study. For most of the study, gay people in Denmark weren’t protected from discrimination in the labor market. Same-sex couples, and especially lesbian couples, also faced significant hurdles when attempting to adopt and raise children. Experiences of discrimination can cause negative health, including higher rates of mental health problems, for same-sex couples.

4. Correlation Isn’t Causation: The biggest problem with NOM’s analysis is that it confuses correlation with causation. While it is true that the study found the highest mortality rates among “married” lesbian couples, there’s no evidence that the heightened mortality rate is a result of marital status or sexual orientation. Morten Frisch, lead author of the study, cited the finding as evidence of the need to research the “underlying factors” responsible for the health disparity:

Morten Frisch, lead author of the study, says, "Lesbians may constitute a largely unnoticed high-risk population for suicide and breast cancer, so our findings call for efforts to identify the underlying factors responsible and ensure access to basic health care in this population."

NOM’s conclusion may be useful for advancing its talking point that gay relationships are unhealthy or dangerous, but it isn’t actually based in the study’s findings. 


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