“As ob-gyns, we must be strong advocates for all of our patients’ health and well-being,” said Jeanne A. Conry, MD, PhD, president of The College. “We know that access to health care and the health of women and their families is tied to financial security. Marriage helps provide this financial security for many women, regardless of sexual orientation.” Some of these financial protections include access to Social Security benefits and rights to shared property.
In addition to providing financial security, marriage equality has other important health benefits. Studies show that same-sex couples in states that legally recognize their marriages have lower levels of stress and fewer mental health and substance abuse disorders compared with same-sex couples who lack legal marriage recognition.
Same-sex couples are far less likely to receive employer-sponsored dependent health care coverage compared with married heterosexual couples and, thus, are more than twice as likely to be uninsured. “This has real consequences for our lesbian patients,” Dr. Conry said. “When women don’t have health insurance, they may not get screened for cervical and breast cancer or receive other important well-woman care.”
An important result of the Supreme Court decision (The United States v. Windsor) is wider access to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under FMLA, individuals in same-sex marriages living in states that legally recognize their marriages can now take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for immediate family members (spouse, child, or parent).
According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are 1,138 legal protections and rights afforded to couples when they marry in the United States. For instance, surviving spouses in heterosexual marriages can sign to release their deceased spouse’s body from the hospital for funeral arrangements. This same right does not apply for the surviving partner in a lesbian relationship living in a state that prohibits same-sex marriage.
“As a society, we have made enormous progress, but we won’t have full marriage equality until same-sex marriage is legal in every state,” said Dr. Conry.