Anti-Gay Amendments Cause Stress, Build Leadership Skills

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In November 2006, over 80 percent of Tennesseans voted for an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage. The final outcome of that election, paired with the massive amounts of campaigning by gay rights activists against the amendment, led to overwhelming stress and anxiety, according to two studies by University of Memphis professors Sharon Horne and Heidi Levitt.

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With the passage of that amendment, LGBT people who may have gotten married in Tennessee were denied 1,138 benefits that come along with legal matrimony. Among those were benefits linked to Social Security, immigration, taxes, medical care, military and veteran benefits, and employee benefits.

Levitt's study, which looked at 13 LGBT people living in Memphis, found that participants viewed the amendment as stamp of approval for discrimination, leading to fears of being harassed or hurt by others who didn't favor equality for gays and lesbians. Some felt their sense of security was threatened.

Levitt also found that some participants felt guilty that they weren't doing enough to fight against the amendment. Others felt that fighting wouldn't amount to change. Some fought so hard against the amendment that they experienced activist burnout. Some even expressed that fighting against the amendment gave them a sense of personal empowerment and helped to build leadership skills.

Horne's study, which looked at 1,152 people living in nine states with anti-marriage amendments on the ballot in 2006, found that gay people in those areas experienced greater levels of stress and depression.

Horne's study also found that straight family members of LGBT people living in states with anti-marriage amendments were just as stressed, even though they weren't directly targeted. The family members expressed worry for their loved ones' safety and felt frustration from trying to convince other straight family and friends to vote against the amendments.

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