City LGBT health council urges lawmakers to approve marriage equality bill

Doctor, health, HIV, medicineLegal same-sex marriages in Illinois will benefit public health — that’s the message members of the Chicago LGBT Health Advisory Council made in a letter to state lawmakers Monday.

As House lawmakers return to session Monday, proponents of the legislation, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, anticipate a vote in the chamber any day now or before session adjourns May 31. In the letter, council members urged the legislators to vote in favor of the bill and provided evidence demonstrating the correlation of equality under the law and better public health.

“A vote for this bill is a vote for public health,” the letter reads. “LGBT Illinoisans deserve the same rights and opportunities as everyone else — including not only the right to marry but also the right to live a healthy life.”

The council, which was formed late last month, is comprised of 16 LGBT community leaders from throughout Chicago who will directly influence the city’s LGBT health outreach. Members who authored the letter compared the movement for marriage equality here to the past civil rights struggles, and credited the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with increases in life expectancy and decreases infant mortality among African Americans.

With more protections under the law comes more access to benefits and less social stigma, the council contends.

“Civil rights are important for health because the social differences that result from inequalities — in areas such as income, education, neighborhood conditions and the experience of stigma — actually have more impact on the health of an individual than even medical care,” the council wrote. “Today, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) population suffers from poorer health than the heterosexual population. Stigma and a long history of discrimination are at the heart of these poor health outcomes.”

In addition, the the council details “vast health inequalities” LGBT Americans face. General psychological distress, depression, anxiety, the need for psychiatric medication and the risk for suicide attempts is higher for the gay and lesbian population, and LGBT youth experience violence, victimization and bullying at higher rates than other youth, according to the letter.

“Marriage has been shown to lead to both physical and mental health benefits and a longer life expectancy,” the members wrote. “LGBT couples who have the same option to marry can expect long-term health benefits through the increase in social support, the financial benefits of marriage, decreased stigma and discrimination and the protective effects of a stable relationship and increased intimacy.”

Studies conducted in states where same-sex marriage is legal demonstrate increased health among the LGBT population, the council said.

Read the full letter here.