marriage is good for mental health -- well, if not yours,
then at least for that of your gay friends and acquaintances.
That's what the American Psychological Association, the world's
largest association of psychologists, says. At their annual
conference this summer, they passed a policy statement that
same-sex couples should have the right to marry.
Their reasoning goes something like this: "If it can't
hurt and it might help, we'll support it."
As for the "can't hurt" part, the APA calls on that
good old incontestable word "research" to camouflage
what would otherwise be recognized as mere opinion and wild
Since legalizing same-sex marriage is something new, none
of us can honestly claim to know the short-term effects --
let alone the long-term ones -- on couples, their children
or society. But, as the APA puts it, psychological research,
"provides no evidence to justify discrimination against
Or, in less formal language, if there is no "scientific"
reason to be against it, then, hey, let's go for it.
As for the "might help" argument, APA president
Diane Halpern puts it best. She says that denying gays the
right to marry "puts a particular stress on them just
because of their sexual orientation. It's a health issue and
In the psychologist's worldview, stress is ubiquitous. If
a group that's in the majority experiences stress, it is called
"life stress." If a minority group experiences it,
it has another name: "minority stress." But whichever
variety it is, psychologists believe stress is always bad.
It's unhealthy and we must, according to current psychological
wisdom, do whatever we can to eliminate it.
So, if allowing gays to marry serves to reduce their stress
level, it's good and we should all be saying "yes"
to gay marriage.
The American Psychological Association is saying this at a
time when U.S. President George W. Bush is stomping across
America championing "family values." That, in his
conservative thinking, means saying "no" to same-sex
marriage. Last week, Missouri voters did just that when they
overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution
barring such marriages, thus becoming the first state to do
so. A dozen other states are preparing to vote on similar
So why, I am wondering, would the APA take such a stance in
this stormy political climate? Ms. Halpern herself acknowledged
the riskiness of the move. We're going out on a limb,"
The answer, I think, has nothing to do with mental health
and everything to do with politics. Leading up to the last
U.S. election, psychology clearly wanted Al Gore to win. While
never officially endorsing the Democrats, they coached Gore
around mental-health issues and they embraced his wife, Tipper,
seeing her as the First Lady of Mental Health, someone sure
to champion their causes whole-heartedly.
But the shoe dropped, the chads hung and psychology's plans
were cast into disarray.
President Bush isn't psychology's ally. He openly favours
faith-based initiatives over professional programs, arguing
that faith can accomplish what secular programs can not. And
he is undermining the control psychology has jealously held
for decades over who can provide therapy and counselling.
In A Charge to Keep, he writes that he "supports
alternative licensing, so effective efforts aren't buried
or compromised by government regulations."
None of this is good for psychology's business.
It seems that psychology, having no friend in the White House
now and seeing that John Kerry has a chance of winning, has
chosen to throw its lot with the Democratic challenger.
Like Ronald Reagan Jr., when he stopped just short of taking
a partisan stance by ending his speech at last month's Democratic
National Convention with the words "vote for stem-cell
research," psychologists have spoken out on an issue
that aligns them with the Democrats.
While Mr. Kerry doesn't personally approve of same-sex marriage,
he doesn't oppose the notion of legalizing civil unions and
he wants the issue to be decided by individual states. Ditto
for the APA, which says it will work with "states and
provinces to provide civil marriage and to recognize the parent
rights of lesbians and gay men."
Since the Democrats have historically been more in line than
the Republicans with psychology's interests and initiatives
-- whether they were supporting greater access to psychological
services, counselling for the poor or drug-abuse treatment
-- John Kerry is its better bet.
The APA says its policy is in the public's best interest because
legalizing same-sex marriage is good for the mental health
of our society. But how can turning a moral and legal dilemma
into a mental-health issue be genuinely
helpful to anyone?
Sure, those lobbying for legalizing same-sex marriage can
now draw on this APA-sanctified "scientific" argument
in favour of their cause. They can use that to shoot down
the equally unscientific arguments that the proponents of
traditional marriage throw at them, all that bogus research
that supposedly shows that gay marriage is unhealthy.
This "it's healthy versus it's unhealthy" bantering
serves only to muddy the matter. Psychology could have done
what it virtually never does -- point out that there is no
real scientific evidence that favours either side and that
psychologists should leave it to individuals and governments
to struggle with the competing values of fairness and faith
and with the social complexity that would come with adopting
this new understanding of "marriage."