APA approves same-sex marriage and parenting rights

By Susan Bowman
September 1, 2004



HONOLULU – The American Psychological Association approved the most sweeping endorsement of gay rights by any mental health organization to date in a pair of resolutions opposing any legal restriction on the rights of gays, lesbians or bisexuals to marry or rear children.

The politics of a presidential election year propelled news reports of the action onto the front pages of many leading newspapers, including USA Today.

The APA’s Council of Representatives approved the resolutions in a show of hands with no dissenting votes during the association’s annual convention held here July 28-Aug. 1.

The resolutions were proposed by a seven-member Working Group on Same-Sex Families and Relationships appointed in February to develop policies to guide member psychologists in the current public debate on extending civil marriage rights to gays.

The chairman of the working group, Armand R. Cerbone, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Chicago, said years of research provides no justification for discriminating against same-sex couples in marriage or parenting.

“The APA recognizes the importance of the institution of civil marriage which confers a social status with important legal benefits, rights and privileges,” Cerbone said.

The APA adopted a resolution in support of equal legal benefits for same-sex couples in 1998. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Academy of Family Physicians have taken positions opposing discrimination against same-sex parents but the APA is alone so far in flatly opposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The work group noted that psychological and psychiatric experts have agreed since 1975 that homosexuality is inborn and is neither a form nor a symptom of mental illness. The resolutions oppose any restrictions by the federal government or the states that discriminate against same-sex couples.

A report earlier this year from the U.S. General Accounting Office determined that more than 1,000 federal statutory provisions make marital status a factor in determining eligibility for various benefits, rights and privileges, such as tax breaks and welfare payments.

Currently 37 states forbid same-sex marriages or the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, and a movement is under way seeking an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to limit marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Massachusetts recognizes gay marriages, Vermont permits same-sex “civil unions” and California issues “domestic partnerships” to same-sex couples.

Anticipating in 1996 that Hawaiian court decisions might authorize gay marriages, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The act restricts the federal definition of marriage to heterosexual unions and permits states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

The Supreme Court of Hawaii, like high courts in Massachusetts and Vermont, did in fact rule in favor of same-sex unions, but the state’s voters subsequently approved an amendment to the Hawaiian constitution limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. Several other states have since approved similar constitutional amendments and more states are in line to vote on such amendments. National polls show Americans oppose same-sex marriage about 2-to-1.

A decision from the King County Superior Court in Washington state upholding the rights of same-sex couples to wed is on appeal to that state’s supreme court.

Doug Haldeman, Ph.D., a psychologist in independent practice in Seattle and a spokesman for APA Division 44, the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues, said he hopes the resolutions by an association representing 150,000 psychologists nationwide will have an effect on the decision in the King County case.

“We can use it in education and we can use it in lobbying,” Haldeman said. He said statistics from Scandinavian countries and Denmark where gay marriages are recognized show that gay couples have a 25 percent lower rate of marital dissolution than heterosexual couples.

Haldeman said it is important that the APA’s decision was based on scientific studies rather than the emotional appeals that have guided so many decisions on gay rights.

On the national level, President George W. Bush has proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to limit marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Although the amendment has been stymied in the U.S. Senate and appears far short of having the support for adoption by the necessary 38 states to be added to the Constitution, the proposal has brought the issue to the political forefront.

Bush’s Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, also opposes gay marriages but has moderated that position by also opposing any restrictions on the legal rights of same-sex couples.

Only maverick candidate Ralph Nader is in full support of allowing same-sex marriages. Democrats view Nader as a potential “spoiler” who could lure liberal voters away from Kerry and give Bush an edge in the November election.

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