We study the effect of legalization of same-sex marriage on coming out in the United States. We overcome data limitations by inferring coming out decisions through a revealed preference mechanism. We exploit data on enrollment in seminary studies for the Catholic priesthood, hypothesizing that Catholic priests' vow of celibacy may lead gay men to self-select as a way to avoid a heterosexual lifestyle. Using a differences-in-differences design that exploits variation in the timing of legalization across states, we find that city-level enrollment in priestly studies fell by about 15% exclusively in states adopting the reform. The celibacy norm appears to be driving our results, since we find no effect on enrollment in deacon or lay ministry studies that do not require celibacy. We also find that coming out decisions, as inferred through enrollment in priestly studies, are primarily affected by the presence of gay communities and by prevailing social attitudes toward gays. We explain our findings with a stylized model of lifestyle choice.
Seror, A. & Ticku, R. (2021). Legalized same-sex marriage and coming out in America: Evidence from Catholic seminaries. ESI Working Paper 21-07. https://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/esi_working_papers/344/