SCOTUS decision supports LGBT behavioral health

Content From: Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., SAMHSA Administrator; Brian Altman, Director, SAMHSA Division of Policy Innovation; and Elliot Kennedy, SAMHSA Special Expert, LGBT AffairsPublished: July 01, 20153 min read


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Friday, we celebrated a historic occasion, as the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Constitution requires LGBT couples be allowed to marry no matter where they live, and marriages performed in one state must be recognized in every other. This ruling is particularly well-timed as it provides us with a poignant ending for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.

This ruling is a major step forward in recognizing the equality of LGBT Americans. We sincerely believe the Court’s decision will further the community and family acceptance of LGBT people we see growing in our nation. This is so important because acceptance is a critical supportive factor for positive behavioral health outcomes in people who are LGBT. In fact, recent data shows that LGBT children who grow up in accepting households are less likely to attempt suicide, report depression, use illegal drugs, or have unprotected sex. In addition to contributing to the shift in cultural acceptance, marriage also conveys practical benefits for many LGBT couples, including expanding healthcare benefits to partners who previously would not have had access to care. This is particularly relevant because on June 25, in King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court ensured that families around the country—including LGBT families—will continue to have access to quality, affordable health care through the Affordable Care Act.

Making sure LGBT people have the health care they need is especially important because this population experiences a wide range of health disparities, from increased rates of obesity and the harmful consequences associated with increased rates of smoking, to higher rates of chronic conditions and earlier onset of disability. Recently, SAMHSA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy co-hosted a Pride Month event at the White House focused on LGBT substance use. At the event, leaders in the behavioral health field talked about how far we have come in supporting LGBT health, but also how far we still have to go. We are grateful and thrilled that the Supreme Court has helped us move forward another step.

As this Pride month draws to a close, we also wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of the other steps forward our nation has taken this year to improve the health and well-being of LGBT people:

  • In April, the White House issued a statement in support of banning conversion therapy for LGBT youth.
  • In May, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued guidance to make clear that health insurance issuers cannot limit preventive services based on an individual’s sex assigned at birth, gender identity, or recorded gender.
  • Just last week, the Office of Personnel Management informed health insurance carriers participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program they may not have a general exclusion of services, drugs, or supplies related to gender transition.
  • Finally, earlier last week, the Department of Labor inducted Frank Kameny into their Hall of Honor, recognizing his decades of tireless work fighting for LGBT equality. Mr. Kameny shared his storyExit Disclaimer at a SAMHSA pride event several years ago.

We take pride in SAMHSA’s progress to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s LGBT community knowing that so many LGBT families around the country are feeling particularly celebratory in the aftermath of last week’s historic Supreme Court decision.