National Eating Disorders Association

What Marriage Equality Has to Do With Eating Disorders

Kira Rakova, Communications Intern

On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that same-sex marriages and unions are legal and must be recognized in all 50 states. 

This ruling is undeniably a historical step forward in establishing justice for all individuals within the United States. In establishing legal marriage equality, the United States has not only symbolically recognized the right for individuals to marry whomever they want, but it has also extended the possibility of various benefits to the LGBTQ+ community. Many individuals are now able to access healthcare, tax, parental, and other benefits that were previously denied to them.

For LGBTQ+ individuals who are affected by eating disorders, this ruling also has the potential to have a positive impact. Many LGBTQ+ individuals are predisposed to the development of an eating disorder as a result of stigma, discrimination, body dysphoria, trauma, etc., that are often linked to their identity. Legally acknowledging the right to marriage on the federal level is undoubtedly a step in the right direction to reduce discrimination.

Research has shown that lesbian and bisexual women are at higher risk for binge-eating and purging than heterosexual peers.  Gay males are 7 more likely to report binging and 12 times more likely to report purging than heterosexual counterparts. Transgender individuals are also at an elevated risk for eating disorders. At the same time, 42% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+, trans people of color are at the highest risk for violence and death, and LGBTQ+ individuals can still be fired for their identity in many states. All of these factors puts LGBTQ+ individuals at a disadvantage for receiving the proper care they need. 

However, from a legal standpoint, marriage equality has the possibility of expanding healthcare and support options for LGBTQ+ individuals with eating disorders. For one, certain individuals may now qualify for healthcare that they did previously not, which could provide them with the opportunity to receive the treatment that they need.  Also, LGBTQ+ individuals now may also have greater access to providing benefits to their children who need treatment. Furthermore, with potentially greater access to immigration visas and green cards, access to healthcare treatment and support may possibly increase as well.  Moreover, with recognition of marriage equality, LGBTQ+ individuals will likely experience less discrimination and possibly stigma, which may decrease their possibility of developing an eating disorder. 

It should also be noted that further economic and socio-cultural shifts are of particular importance in both the fight against eating disorders and homophobia and transphobia.  As the conversation shifts from legal marriage equality to the socio-economic issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, we will hopefully see even greater equality for LGBTQ+ identified individuals, as well as greater support and treatment opportunities for those affected by eating disorders. 

NEDA would like to recognize that the recent ruling and various other victories for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals were made possible through the hard work of various individuals within the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. Congratulations and thank you for your amazing work! We also would like to extend a congratulations to all of those individuals who have married since the ruling. 


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