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Position Paper On Gay Marriage

Committee on Gay and Lesbian Issues

In 1997 APsaA endorsed the following Marriage Resolution:
“Because marriage is a basic human right and an individual personal choice, RESOLVED, the State should not interfere with same-gender couples who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities, and commitment of civil marriage.”

The adoption of this resolution was a response to the passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton in September 1996.  The Marriage Resolution was drafted and circulated by Lambda Legal, a gay/lesbian legal advocacy organization, and has been endorsed by hundreds of professional organizations and individuals.

Since APsaA’s endorsement of Lambda Legal's Marriage Resolution, reactionary social and political groups across the country have taken aim not just at same-sex civil marriage, but also at same-sex unions.   At this writing, 18 states have passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, and 27 states have enacted legal statutes defining marriage as between a man and a woman.  Recognizing that this blatant discrimination is having a significant adverse impact on the psychological and social well-being and stability of gay and lesbian couples, their children and families, APsaA’s CGLI and Executive Committee think that at this moment in the political discourse of the United States, they have an ethical, moral and social responsibility to issue a more comprehensive statement about same-sex marriage.

Civil marriage provides a legal framework for the creation and dissolution of committed relationships; it socially sanctions a relationship, defining its legal rights, benefits and responsibilities.  Marriage thus functions as stabilizing force.  Government sanctioned discrimination against gay and lesbian couples denies them the 1.049 rights, benefits, and protections that, according to the General Accounting Office of the federal government*, civil marriage confers in areas of health care, insurance, property, finances, and inheritance.  Research is now emerging** that outlines the benefits that accrue to married same-sex couple and their children. Discriminatory marriage laws adversely affect the children of same-sex couples. The APsaA has previously issued a position paper on same-sex adoption. Although some states now allow second parent adoptions, children of same-sex couples in most of the United States are not permitted to be adopted by their second parent and thus are more vulnerable than children of married parents.  For example, health benefits may not be available to the child if the non-biological or non-adoptive parent is the only parent with health insurance.  If relationship dissolution occurs, the non-biological or non-adoptive parent may lose parental rights, subjecting the child to potentially traumatizing loss, instability and financial insecurity.  Further, socially sanctioned discrimination adds to the burdens of both the children of same-sex couples as well as gay and lesbian youth (who have higher rates of suicide attempts than heterosexual youth).
**An Exploratory Study of Same-Sex Marriage:  How Legalization Has Influenced Massachusetts Couples.  Research and Action Report of the Wellesley Centers for Women 27:7.


WHEREAS homosexuality is a normal variant of adult sexuality and,

WHEREAS gay men and lesbians possess the same potential and desire for sustained loving and lasting relationships as heterosexuals and,

WHEREAS same-sex couples are raising children and have the same potential and desire as heterosexual couples  to love and parent children and,

WHEREAS existing marriage laws in the United States discriminate against same-sex couples and,

WHEREAS same-sex couples and their children are adversely affected by these discriminatory marriage laws and,

WHEREAS the milestone of marriage moves a couple and its children into full citizenship in American society and, WHEREAS discriminatory marriage laws deprive gay and lesbian couples of over 1000 federal rights and benefits and,

WHEREAS the denial of such benefits has been demonstrated to have significant psychological and social impact on gay and lesbian couples and their families, and the converse, that research is now substantiating the benefit that accrues to married same-sex couples and their children

The American Psychoanalytic Association supports the legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage with all the rights, benefits and responsibilities conferred by civil marriage, and opposes discrimination against same-sex couples, and the denial to same-sex couples these same rights, benefits and responsibilities.

Review of Research Relevant to Same-Sex Marriage

Gary Grossman, PhD
Committee on Gay & Lesbian Issues
American Psychoanalytic Association
June 11, 2007

The scientific psychosocial literature relevant to the issue of same-sex marriage is extensive and can be divided into the following topics:  1) Homosexuality and Sexual Orientation; 2) Psychological/Mental Health Benefits of Marriage; 3) Same-sex Relationships; 4) Psychological Impact of the Denial of Marriage Rights; and 5) Children of Same-sex Couples.  Rather than reviewing individual studies, I have based this summary on several comprehensive documents including:  Herdt, G. & Kertzer, R. (2006).  I do but I can't:  The impact of marriage denial on the mental health and sexual citizenship of lesbians and gay men in the United States.  Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 3, 33-49; Herek, G. (2006).  Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, 61, 607-621; and position statements with supporting documents from the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

Homosexuality and Sexual Orientation

Although rarely stated explicitly in the arguments opposing same-sex marriage, the belief that homosexuality is an illness or immoral is a central tenet of such positions.  Although there are some who argue that there continues to be controversy over whether or not homosexuality is a healthy variation of adult sexuality or a sign of pathology, the scientific community has resolved this issue and APsaA has already expressed its position in its statement on reparative therapy, ASame-gender sexual orientation cannot be assumed to represent a deficit in personality development or the expression of psychopathology@ (APsaA Position Statement on Reparative Therapy, Adopted 2000).

Psychological/Mental Health Benefits of Marriage

There is well-documented evidence from decades of social science research indicating that a satisfying marriage contributes to psychological and physical well-being (House et al, 1988; Kiecolt-Glaser & Newton, 2001; Kim & McKenry, 2002; Waite & Gallagher, 2000; Williams, 2003).  These studies have demonstrated that married individuals have better mental health, more emotional support, less psychological stress and lower rates of psychiatric disorder than unmarried people.

Same-sex Relationships

Numerous studies have shown that a significant number of gay men and lesbians are in committed long-term relationships (Bradford, Ryan, & Rothblum, 1994; Falkner & Garber, 2002; Morris, Balsam, & Rothblum, 2002) and that these couples derive increased life satisfaction, enhanced personal meaning and stability from their relationship (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Kertzner, 1999; Peplau & Spalding, 2000).  Data from the 2000 U.S. Census indicate that of the 5.5 million cohabitating, unmarried couples, approximately 11% were same-sex couples (United States Census Bureau, 2000).  Given the reluctance of many individuals to identify themselves as gay, this is likely a low estimate.  In addition, a significant percentage of lesbians and gay men express interest in being legally married (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2001). 

Studies of same-sex relationships have provided persuasive evidence that lesbian and gay couples do not vary from heterosexual couples on measures of relationship satisfaction, stability, durability and commitment.

Psychological Impact of the Denial of Marriage to Same-Sex Couples

Clinical studies of same-sex couples have found that the absence of legally recognized marriage contributes to significant common problems in these relationships, particularly with regards to defining boundaries, receiving familial and societal support and recognition, and valuing the relationship as a legitimate expression of love and commitment (Green, 2004; Greenan & Tunnell, 2003, King & Bartlett, 2006).  For many of these couples relationship commitment remains ambiguous, for example they are uncertain when the relationship began or the extent of their mutual obligations.  Same-sex couples are also subjected to various levels of stress due to the lack of legal recognition.  For example, they may lack inheritance rights, hospital visitation, and health care.  Same-sex couples faced with relationship dissolution are also subjected to added stress due to the absence of legal protections for both partners.

Discrimination's detrimental impact on mental health has also been well documented in lesbian and gay populations.  "Minority stress" (DiPlacido, 1998; Meyer, 2003) contributes to psychiatric problems and gay men and lesbians who report greater levels of stigma and discrimination are more likely to seek psychological treatment (Meyer, 2003).

Children of Same-sex Couples

Over the past 20 years an increasing number of same-sex couples are conceiving, adopting and raising children.  According to the 2000 U.S. Census 34% of cohabitating female couples and 22% of male couples were raising children under the age of 18.  The absence of the legal recognition of their parents' relationship will also impact these children.  Children of same-sex couples are accorded a stigmatized status of being "illegitimate".  To the extent that legal marriage fosters well-being in couples, it will enhance the well-being in their children who benefit most when their parents are financially secure, physically and psychologically healthy and not subjected to high levels of stress (Chan, et al, 1998; Patterson, 2001).  Children of gay and lesbian couples are especially vulnerable if their parent's relationship dissolves (Amato, 2001). Both parents of same-sex couples do not automatically have legal custody and, therefore, custody issues are more complicated, and the children lack the same level of legal protections afforded to children of married couples.


Amato, P. & Keith, B. (1991).  Parental divorce and the well-being of children: A meta-analysis.  Psychological Bulletin, 110, 26-46.
Amato, P. (2001).  Children of divorce in the 1990's: An update of the Amato and Keith (1991) meta-analysis.  Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 355-370.
Blumstein, P. & Schwartz, P. (1983).  The American couple.  New York: Simon and Shuster.
Bradford, J., Ryan, C., & Rothblum, E.  (1994). National lesbian healthcare survey: Implications for mental health.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62. 228-242.
Chan, R., Ratboy, B, & Patterson, C. (1998).  Psychosocial adjustment among children conceived via donor insemination by lesbian and heterosexual mothers.  Child Development, 69, 443-457.
DiPlacido, J. (1998). Minority stress among lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals: A consequence of heterosexism, homophobia, and stigmatization.  In G. Herek, Stigma and sexual orientation: Understanding prejudice against lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Psychological perspectives on lesbian and gay issues, Vol. 4. (pp. 138-159). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Falkner, A., & Garber, J. (2002). 2001 gay/lesbian consumer online census.  Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University, OpusComm Group, and GSociety.
Green, R. (2004). Risk and resilience in lesbian and gay couples.  Journal of Family Psychology, 18, 290-292.
Greenan, D. & Tunnell, G. (2003).  Couple therapy with gay men.  New York: Guildford Press.
King, M. & Bartlett, A.  (2006). What same sex civil partnerships may mean for health.  Journal of Epidemiology and Community Mental Health, 60, 188-191.
Herek, G. (2006).  Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, 61, 607-621.
Herdt, G. & Kertzer, R. (2006).  I do but I can't:  The impact of marriage denial on the mental health and sexual citizenship of lesbians and gay men in the United States.  Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 3, 33-49.
House, J., Landis, K. & Umberson, D.  (1988). Social relationships and health.  Science, 241, 540-545.
Kertzner, R. (1999).  Self-appraisal of life experience and psychological adjustment in midlife gay men.  Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 11, 43-64.
Kiecolt-Glaser, J. & Newton, T.  (2001).  Marriage and health.  Psychological Bulletin, 127, 472-503.
Kim, H. & McKenry, M.  (2002). The relationship between marriage and psychological well-being.  Journal of Family Issues, 23, 885-911.
Meyer, I.  (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence.  Psychological Bulletin, 129, 674-697.
Morris, J., Balsam, K., & Rothblum, E. (2002). Lesbian and bisexual mothers and nonmothers: Demographics and the coming-out process. Developmental Psychology, 16, 144156.
Patterson, C. (2001).  Families of the lesbian baby boom: Maternal mental health and child adjustment.  Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 4, 91-107.
Peplau, L. & Spalding, L. (2000).  The close relationships of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.  In C. Hendrick & S. Hendrick (Eds.).  Close relationships: A sourcebook (pp. 449-474).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Waite, L. & Gallagher, M.  (2000). The case for marriage: Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially.  New York: Doubleday.
Williams, K.  (2003). Has the future of marriage arrived? A contemporary examination of gender, marriage, and psychological well-being.  Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44, 470-487.