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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The shrinks weigh in on same-sex marriage 

The American Psychiatric Association's board of trustees voted in July to take a position in favour of same-sex civil marriages - a controversial decision which has been defended by the APA's president in Psychiatric News:

Many studies have now established that marriage is associated with clear benefits, including better mental and physical health. It is a stabilizing force in our society that enables individuals to make public their commitment to each other and receive acceptance and support from others. Further, research indicates that same-sex partners have the same capacity to form long-term relationships as do heterosexual individuals. To deny this recognition increases the stigma and related distress often experienced by gay and lesbian individuals in other facets of community life...

...Marriage by gay and lesbian partners arouses irrational prejudice and fear, but as psychiatrists, we must take a stand on issues that have a clear impact on the mental health of our patients and of persons in the community at large. As an organization, we seek also to promote human rights and freedom from discrimination. Psychiatry leads the way for the rest of medicine on this important issue.

The APA's full position statement can be read here.

While it's good that they've taken an egalitarian stand for those queers who buy into that sort of thing, I'm annoyed by the assertion that marriage "is a stabilizing force in our society". Sure, if you mean the stability imposed by a straitjacket. A psychiatric association should be able to recognise the suffering that can be inflicted by cultural pressures such as the marriage norm. The fact that many, if not a majority, of people want to get married says nothing about how beneficial this institution really is. It just shows how little people are able to conceive of other arrangements as ideal, even now. We're encouraged to see promiscuity as a blight on society, and relationships involving more than two people as a freak show. Even if you've conformed and settled into a two-person, long-term bond, your relationship isn't valid until you've signed the right forms and made it a threesome with the law.

Although I genuinely do believe that all people should be given the same choices in life, I'm even more convinced that these choices will be severely limited if they're merely equalised. The more freedom we have to marry, the less we have not to marry; and quite contrary to what conservatives claim, it is for this reason that the legalisation of gay marriage would actually strengthen this hallowed institution.

This doesn't mean gay marriage shouldn't be legalised, though. After all, the struggle which I'm discussing really isn't a gay struggle at all, but one existing between those who can be happy in society's straitjackets, and those who cannot. The reason for my ambivalence concerning gay marriage is that if it does get the go-ahead, there'll be a lot less of us to make that struggle. And perhaps at heart I'm a opportunist, because I'd rather have people fighting on my side through necessity than have no one fight at all.

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