Study Linking Marriage to Gay Men's Health 'Flawed,' Say Experts

A controversial study from Columbia University, claiming the health and well-being of gay men is possibly linked to pro-homosexual policies, is being contested for its "flaws" and the alleged bias of the head researcher.

Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the university, is credited with conceiving of the study and completing its analyses.

"Gay men lead healthier, less stress-filled lives when states offer legal protections to same-sex couples," reads a Dec. 15 press release from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

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The study, titled "Effect of Same-Sex Marriage Laws on Health Care Use and Expenditures in Sexual Minority Men: A Quasi-Natural Experiment," is also available on the American Journal of Public Health's website.

The focus of the study was the state of Massachusetts, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, and specifically "a large, community-based health clinic in Massachusetts that focuses on serving sexual minorities."

The researchers surveyed 1,211 gay and bisexual men who visited the facility, excluding lesbians from the study "due to insufficient sample size among the patients who visit the clinic."

Researchers reviewed the LGBT clinic's billing records for a 12-month period following Massachusetts passing its same-sex marriage law, and compared what they found with the number of medical care, mental healthcare visits and mental healthcare costs from the 12-month period prior to the law changing.

The study indicates that there was a "13% reduction in healthcare visits and a 14% reduction in healthcare costs," and also noted that the results were similar for both single gay men and those in relationships.

Hatzenbuehler and fellow researchers noted, upon a comparative review of the data, that there was a drop in conditions associated with stress, such as hypertension, depression, and adjustment disorders.

"These findings suggest that marriage equality may produce broad public health benefits by reducing the occurrence of stress-related health conditions in gay and bisexual men," Hatzenbuehler concluded.

The clinical psychiatrist added, "This research makes important contributions to a growing body of evidence on the social, economic, and health benefits of marriage equality."

However, Mathew Staver, Dean and Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law, told The Christian Post that there were several inherent flaws with Hatzenbuehler's study, some of which include a failure to consider the declining economy and lack of affordable healthcare as factors in the decrease of clinical visits.

The law professor also alleged that Hatzenbuehler has a vested interest in the study's findings, that the doctor was "creating research to accomplish an LGBT agenda" and was "injecting his own bias into the research." Staver noted, "A researcher has to be dispassionately" involved in a study.

Hatzenbuehler completed his doctorate in 2010 at Yale University. His listed expertise as a Health & Society scholar include: "Stigma and Discrimination, Mental Health of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) Populations, Social Determinants of Health."

Among his awards from the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Psychological Association, and the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, is a 2009 student award from the LGBT Caucus of Public Health Professionals. Hatzenbuehler's research was also noted in a brief given to the California Supreme Court during its review of the challenge to Proposition 8, which protected the traditional institution of marriage.

Jeff Johnston, a Social Policy Analyst at CitzenLink, a family advocacy organization, noted that Hatzenbuehler's study lacked a control group for comparison purposes.

"Some of the researchers seem to have a bias from the outset, and the study would have to be replicated numerous times to be considered valid," Johnston explained. "Most importantly, there could be many other factors that influenced the results – factors that were never considered in the study."

Johnston also noted that the news release from Mailman School of Public Health on the troublesome study seemed to assume its findings were valid, while the study's researchers express their conclusions with a cautionary tone.

"Columbia University released news about this study as if it were a proven fact that same-sex marriage laws inevitably lead to better health for gay-identified men," the social policy analyst said. "The researchers themselves never make this claim."

"The researchers – as opposed to the news release – are very cautious and use all kinds of qualifiers, such as same-sex marriage 'may be effective' and 'our results suggest.' They never state that they have proven anything," Johnston said.

The Christian Post made contact with Hatzenbeuhler's media representative, but was unable to obtain a comment from the doctor by press time.

This is not the first time that a link has been cited regarding health disparities between heterosexual and homosexual Americans.

The American Medical Association's GLBT Advisory Committee "recognizes that exclusion from civil marriage contributes to health care disparities affecting same-sex households," according to policies listed on the AMA's website.

The AMA's Council on Science and Public Health also agreed with that claim, however, it noted in its report that the disparities were due to economics: "Many of the statutory advantages enjoyed by married partners are financial, including those derived from tax laws, employee benefits, inheritance, insurance and survivorship rights, and entitlement programs."

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