Same sex marriage legalization reduces doctor visits and health care costs for gay men, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Laws prohibiting same sex marriage deprive gay couples of many benefits and privileges that heterosexual married couples have under federal and state laws.

"Our results suggest that removing these barriers improves the health of gay and bisexual men," said Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, PhD, lead author of the study and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

The study surveyed 1,211 patients from a large, community-based health clinic in Massachusetts that focuses on serving sexual minorities.

In the 12 months following the 2003 legalization of same sex marriage in Massachusetts, gay and bisexual men had a significant decrease in medical care visits, mental health care visits, and mental health care costs, compared with the 12 months before the law change. This amounted to a 13 percent reduction in health care visits and a 14 percent reduction in health care costs.

After the legalization of same sex marriage, the researchers also found a reduction in hypertension, depression, and adjustment disorders among gay men. All the conditions are associated with stress.

Previous studies have found that restricting marriage rights for same sex couples creates psychological distress among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adults and even their families. LGBT individuals living in states that have banned same sex marriage are more likely to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.

"These findings suggest that marriage equality may produce broad public health benefits by reducing the occurrence of stress-related health conditions in gay and bisexual men," Dr. Hatzenbuehler said.