Psychiatrists' proclamation is first for a medical association
The country's leading mental health organization voted Sunday in Atlanta to support marriage for same-sex couples, the first major medical association to do so in the polarizing debate.
Representatives from the American Psychiatric Association took up gay marriage as an issue at their 158th annual convention this week and approved a proclamation to support legalizing such marriage.
"The American Psychiatric Association supports the legal recognition of same sex civil marriage," according to the approved statement. "Heterosexual relationships have a legal framework for their existence through civil marriage. Same sex couples therefore experience several kinds of state-sanctioned discrimination that can adversely affect the stability of their relationships and mental health."
The vote was taken by the association's Assembly, an advisory group made up of 250 representatives from each state and region. A clear majority said yes to supporting gay marriage. The psychiatric organization's board of trustees is expected to adopt the measure in July.
The newest statement surpasses the organization's public support for civil unions in 2000.
In the wake of Vermont's adoption of civil union and Massachusetts' same-sex marriage, it became clear that the two notions are not equal, said psychiatrists who voted for gay marriage.
Same-sex marriage supporters say a civil union is tailored by each state, comes with fewer benefits and is not recognized by other states with the same measure. Marriage, theoretically, is recognized universally even though states do not accept Massachusetts' approval of gay marriage at the moment.
"Civil unions are more restrictive to strengthening the couple and family. They're not transportable. Marriage is transportable from state to state, from country to country," said Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist in charge of the assembly's committee on gay issues, adding that the APA is the first medical organization to endorse same-sex marriage.
The psychiatrists said discrimination is toxic to mental health, and as medical professionals, condoning it collides with the ethics of their profession.
"Folks who choose to seek same-sex marriage should be afforded the same rights," said Dr. Stephen McLeod-Bryant, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at Medical University of South Carolina.
But those who voted against the issue said the organization should not butt in on a political issue.
"Marriage has a lot of Judeo-Christian connotations" attached to it, said F. Joseph Whelan, a psychiatrist from Beckley, W. Va., who has been a member for four decades. "Many of us did not see it was appropriate for APA to be a vanguard to change that."
Nearly 36,000 doctors belong to the APA. The group has a history of progressive policies that helped society transform views on sexual minorities. In 1973, the group removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, a milestone event at a time when popular culture perceived gays as psychologically deranged.
Sunday's vote was ironic because Georgians overwhelmingly voted for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union between only a man and a woman, Drescher said. Some members had opposed the convention being held in Atlanta because of the state government's anti-gay politics.
'Certainly applaud APA'
Just as it did three decades ago, the medical group's support will help mainstream society peel off stigmas associated with gay relationships and accept them, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest gay rights organization.
"We certainly applaud APA for taking the stance they did today," said Seth Kilbourn, a Human Rights Campaign marriage project coordinator. "Our family, that is gay and lesbian families, need the same protections that other families have."
Forty states currently prohibit gay marriages, barring same-sex couples from the legal protections that heterosexual couples are entitled to, including the application of health insurance and other benefits with their partners.