Suicide rates fall after gay marriage legalised in Sweden and Denmark

Jon Henley Europe correspondent
Photograph: ole999/Alamy

Suicide rates among those in same-sex relationships have fallen significantly in both Denmark and Sweden since the legalisation of gay marriage, according to a study, although whatever their marital status, homosexual people remain more likely to take their own life.

The joint study by the Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention and researchers from Stockholm University compared suicide rates for people in same-sex and heterosexual relationships in the periods 1989-2002 and 2003-16.

Denmark became the first country in the world to allow same-sex civil partnerships in 1989, with neighbouring Sweden following six years later. Same-sex marriage, now authorised in 28 countries, became legal in Sweden in 2009 and Denmark in 2012.

The researchers found that between the two periods, the number of suicides among people in same-sex unions fell by 46%, compared to a decline of about 28% in the number of suicides by people in heterosexual relationships.

“Although suicide rates in the general populations of Denmark and Sweden have been decreasing in recent decades, the rate for those living in same-sex marriage declined at a steeper pace, which has not been noted previously,” the study, which followed 28,000 people in same-sex partnerships for an average of 11 years, concludes.

Annette Erlangsen, the lead author, suggested that along with other gay rights legislation, same-sex marriage may have reduced feelings of social stigmatisation among some homosexual people. “Being married is protective against suicide,” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But she noted that the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, still showed that more than twice as many people in same-sex marriages and unions killed themselves than those in opposite-sex marriages.

“Of course, it is positive to see that the suicide rate has almost halved. But it remains worryingly high, especially considering that the suicide rate may be higher among non-married people,” she told the Danish newspaper Information.

According to a 2018 report comparing 35 studies from 10 countries, young LGBT+ people are at least three times more likely to attempt suicide than straight people of the same age, although the risk may be reduced by pro-equality legislation.

Despite Scandinavia’s reputation as a progressive leader on LGBT+ rights, a study published last month revealed that almost one third of Danish men considered sex between two men to be morally wrong.