Repealing laws that criminalised sexual intercourse between same-sex partners brought down crime and improved LGBTQ+ mental health in the US, a new study finds.

The study could have far reaching policy implications for countries where same-sex sexual acts remain banned, as well as for international institutions seeking to apply pressure on these countries.

Researchers analysed crime data using the 1995–2018 Uniform Crime Reporting Programme database focusing on the period leading up to and following Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court judgement that made sodomy laws unconstitutional in the United States.

Researchers found that repealing the laws reduced arrests in subsequent years, with a 24 per cent reduction in arrests for disorderly conduct and 26 per cent fewer arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

This supports the hypothesis that LGBTQ+ people’s mental health enhanced following the Supreme Court judgement, with drugs and alcohol being used by many as a coping mechanism.

A strand of the literature found that before the repeal there were disproportionately high rates of drug and alcohol use among sexual minorities, possibly due to overt discrimination and violence, as well as internalised homophobia, anticipated rejection and the constant pressure to hide their sexual identity.

The study also found arrests for prostitution fell by 37 per cent, which the researchers partly attribute to LGBTQ+ people being able to meet up in public and find sexual partners more freely.

It adds that repealing the laws across the US might also have made LGBTQ+ people more integrated in the mainstream economy, thereby reducing homelessness and the number of people relying on ‘survival sex’.

Arrests for directly-related crimes such as so-called offences against chastity, common decency and morals – which the researchers point out were historically used to harass and arrest sexual minority individuals – also fell, by 16 per cent.

The reductions were evident in the year sodomy laws were abolished and continued in subsequent years, suggesting the reforms had long-lasting effects.

The researchers say the study is the first evidence that repealing laws banning homosexual sex had an ‘economically meaningful’ impact, and point towards important policy implications for countries where such laws still exist.

A total of 65 countries still criminalise sodomy, and in 11 of those countries homosexuality is punishable by death.

Dr Dario Sansone, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Exeter, said: “This study is a first step towards helping international institutions to evaluate more accurately the costs and benefits of pressuring or suspending foreign aids to countries in blatant violation of basic human rights, and also emphasizes the potential benefits from repealing sodomy laws still standing in several countries.”

“More generally, this paper provides a new and important contribution to research on the economic effects of civil and social right reforms affecting stigmatized and marginalized populations from the Civil Rights Act to the legalisation of interracial marriage and abortion and family-planning reforms.

“Within this body of research, our study provides further evidence that policies affecting human rights can have large effects on a wide range of outcomes, including crime rates.”

Dr Riccardo Ciacci, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Economics and Business Management at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas (Spain) added: “Moreover, this paper moves forward the extant suggestive evidence in favor of the notion that improving gender equality might reduce prostitution.”

The Impact of Sodomy Law Appeals on Crime” by Dr Dario Sansone and Dr Riccardo Ciacci is published in the Journal of Population Economics.