A large majority of the APA Assembly voted last month to have APA adopt a
position statement supporting the legal recognition of same-sex civil
The vote came on a resolution and supporting position statement proposed by
the Council on Minority Mental Health and Health Disparities and developed by
its Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues. It came to the Assembly as
a referral from the Joint Reference Committee, and council Chair Francis Lu,
M.D., explained the statement's background and intent to the Assembly.
In October 2004 the Board of Trustees had asked four APA
components—the Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues; Council
on Psychiatry and Law; Committee on Judicial Action; and Council on Children,
Adolescents, and Their Families—to work with the Joint Reference
Committee to develop a statement on same-sex marriage.
Before the statement can become official APA policy, it must be approved by
the Board of Trustees. The Board is scheduled to review the statement at its
The position statement emphasizes the positive impact on mental health of a"
stable, adult partnership" and points out that "sustained
and committed marital and family relationships are cornerstones of our
social-support network as we face life's challenges, including illness and
loss. There is ample evidence that long-term spousal and family support
enhance physical and mental health at all stages of development."
The statement also says that same-sex couples lack the protections of law
to which heterosexual spouses are entitled, including protections for adopted
children, ability to make health care decisions for a disabled partner, or
even visit a hospitalized
Coverage of APA's 2005 annual meeting, which was held in Atlanta May 21 to
26, begins in this issue and will continue in next month's issues.
"Same-sex couples therefore experience several kinds of
state-sanctioned discrimination that can adversely affect the stability of
their relationships and their mental health," reads the statement.
The statement further emphasizes that it refers to civil and not religious
marriage and expands an earlier statement supporting civil unions for same-sex
Opponents of the statement appeared to back the position articulated by
Daniel Cowell, M.D., West Virginia's deputy representative, who said that the
issues involved were social or political rather than in the realm of mental
health concerns, and APA should thus avoid taking a position despite adoption
of similar statements by other mental health organizations.
Lu countered, however, that the statement "builds on 30 years of APA
support for equal rights for sexual minorities."
Michael Gales, M.D., a representative from the Southern California
Psychiatric Society, said that while several of his Area 6 colleagues
maintained that "this was not the right time" for APA to take such
a position, the majority agreed that "it falls to [psychiatrists] to be
leaders in this area and to take the principled
Stephen McLeod-Bryant, M.D., of the Assembly's Committee on
Minority/Underrepresented Groups urges Assembly representatives to support a
proposed APA position statement emphasizing the mental health benefits that
would accrue from granting same-sex couples the right to marry. The statement
was passed by a substantial margin and will be voted on next month by APA's
Board of Trustees.
Stephen McLeod-Bryant, M.D., who represents black psychiatrists on the
Assembly's Committee of Minority/Underrepresented Groups, urged support for
the statement, likening the legal situation of same-sex couples to that of
African Americans, who for centuries were subject to a "lower level of
rights" than the majority of Americans.
"It doesn't bode well for anyone's mental health to be denied what
otherwise would be their legal due, if not for their color, gender, or sexual
orientation," he stated.
Lois Flaherty, M.D., chair of the Council on Children, Adolescents, and
Their Families, stressed that "children should have the same rights no
matter who raises them."
A voice vote indicated that the statement had overwhelming support.
Reflecting many Assembly members' desire to have more say in APA's
decision- and policymaking process, the representatives endorsed a proposal to
increase the Assembly's power.
Some Assembly members believe that the Assembly is more representative than
the Board of Trustees and more closely mirrors members' thinking, since it has
representation from every district branch and APA-recognized minority group
and from several allied organizations.
This proposal, which called for a revision of the APA Bylaws, would give
the Assembly the power to reverse a Board action in some instances. It would
allow the Assembly to override a Board action that overrules, ignores, or
fails to implement an action passed by the Assembly. For this override to
occur, 75 percent of Assembly members would have to vote in favor of it. The
proposal excludes actions that the Board of Trustees deems would be illegal or
would threaten APA's tax status.
It also would apply to actions by the Joint Reference Committee on papers
passed by the Assembly.
Jerome Rogoff, M.D., who introduced the proposal, said it was "an
attempt to give the Assembly the final word and create the real impression
that it's not just a debating society."
Area 5 Rep. Gary Weinstein, M.D., called the proposal "a tiny step
toward power sharing."
Former Assembly Speaker and incoming APA Vice President Nada Stotland,
M.D., disagreed that this was an important step for APA to take, suggesting
that the time spent on internal governance issues seems to many members to be"
merely navel gazing." Members, she said, want their Assembly
representatives to "focus on bigger issues."
The measure passed with 61 percent of the votes and will go to the Board
with a request that the Board either amend the bylaws or include the proposed
amendment on the next APA election ballot.
In other actions the Assembly
Nada Stotland, M.D., former Assembly speaker and incoming APA vice
president, presents the District Branch Best Practices Award to Harry Brandt,
M.D. (center), of the Maryland Psychiatric Society. Also shown is Area 3
Deputy Rep. Bruce Hershfield, M.D. The district branch won for its
comprehensive membership programs, which include a sophisticated database that
allows for referrals, billings, and other functions; publication of three
newsletters; outreach to the academic community; and establishing committees
to address private-practice and public-sector psychiatry issues.
The draft summary of the Assembly's actions is posted in the"
Members Corner" section of APA's Web site at<www.psych.org/members/index.cfm>
under "Assembly." The document "APA Actions on Legal
Recognition of Same-Sex Civil Marriage" is posted in the Members Corner
section of APA's Web site at<www.psych.org/members/download.cfm?file=667>.▪