FIG1 I want to thank the Board
of Trustees and the Assembly for their support of the APA position statement
supporting same-sex civil marriage. As co-chair of the Massachusetts
Psychiatric Society's Task Force on Same Sex Civil Marriage, a distinguished
fellow of APA, past chair of the AIDS Commission, and an active member since
1981, I never felt my sexual orientation was an issue. As a psychotherapist
for gay and lesbian people over the past 24 years, there is no doubt in my
mind that civil rights and the mental health of individuals and of our society
as a whole are inextricably connected.
Young gay people often imagine that they have to forego parenting or
marriage if they are to achieve self-acceptance. Remaining in the"
closet" and afraid to love and commit one's self to others openly
are destructive to the true, authentic self for which we and our patients
strive. There is an extensive psychiatric literature on the impact of stigma,
social oppression, and marriage itself on mental health.
For years gay people have been told what was wrong with us and that we
could and should "change," and now we are being told that same-sex
marriage would "destroy the institution of marriage." Recently a
Board member said that same-sex civil marriage is "a social issue that's
weakly linked to mental health" (Psychiatric News, August
19). He further stated that he supported gay marriage although he
would not support APA's taking a position on it. How many people have said,"
Personally, I support the right for gay people to marry, but I don't
think APA should take this position as it is outside the realm of psychiatric
concerns"? Since when have civil rights, human rights, and the impact of
oppression fallen outside of the realm of mental health?
Please listen to those of us who are gay or lesbian whom you know and work
with: we are telling you that this is a mental health issue for us. Can you
hear that many of us have felt oppressed by exclusion from what heterosexuals
take for granted? Should Britney Spears's 48-hour marriage afford rights that
my 25-year relationship does not?
Most gay and lesbian APA members would argue that the right to marry, to
have the most intimate relationship in our lives made public and recognized
officially, is a major mental health issue for those who choose to marry.
Ask my spouse and our two adopted children what being legally married after
25 years means to them. If I could show you the smiles our two sons had on
their faces when the marriage was pronounced at our ceremony on May 24, 2004,
I doubt anyone could avoid seeing the power of that moment. (I have pictures!)
However, our marriage is legal only in Massachusetts, precluding more than
1,100 legal and economic benefits of a federally recognized marriage. Imagine
if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been enacted in only the states north of
the Mason-Dixon Line.
Same-sex civil marriage will not make societal antihomosexual bias
disappear any more than the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has eradicated racism.
But like the Civil Rights Act, gay marriage can provide a platform on which to
build legal and social acceptance and equality. Ask people of color who are
also gay about the double stigma they have had to manage.
History teaches us that those in the majority have only reluctantly shared
that power with the minority. Our constitution was conceived to protect the
minority from the majority. Never has it been more important to protect the
separation of church and state, lest the beliefs of any majority dictate the
oppression of those of the minority.
Whatever your personal beliefs about homosexuality, I am entitled to the
same rights to participate in civil marriage. I pay the same dues as
heterosexual members of APA and am entitled to have my organization
acknowledge and support my equality as a citizen. Before the Assembly and
Board voted on the position statement on the legalization of same-sex civil
marriage, I faced the issue of whether I would remain a member of APA if my
community had voted it down.
I pay federal and state taxes. I spend my life caring for people who
themselves might not approve of my sexual orientation. How many people have
had their children taught by gay and lesbian teachers or been treated during
an acute MI by a gay or lesbian doctor? How many of you have entrusted your
lives to the pilots of commercial airlines without first asking about whom the
pilot loves? Please show me how the 6,500 same-sex civil marriages in
Massachusetts have diminished the value and purpose of your own marriages.
With a national heterosexual divorce rate approaching 50 percent, the problems
facing heterosexual marriages cannot be blamed on gay people wanting the right
The leaders of APA have found the courage to push us ahead in the quest for
equal rights and the inevitable benefit that equality conveys on overall
mental health. We need to heed George Orwell in Animal Farm when he
offered this observation: "All animals are created equal, but some are
more equal than others." ▪