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Turning Point: My conversion to gay marriage

with 5 comments

Same-sex marriage has been in the headlines lately, and I’ve been surprised by my reservations. I’ve always fancied myself a freethinker, ahead of the curve, but on this one I’ve resisted jumping on the bandwagon.

Maybe it’s generational prejudice, or a lingering discomfort about homosexuality — I admit to being a little squeamish about same sex intimacies. I’d like to think I’ve just been reasonably cautious about a major change in our social order. I grew up with a loving father but without a mother to help me understand what it takes to sustain a healthy male-female household. Will encouraging same-sex marriages have an impact on our already stressed traditional families?

One thing I know is that my unease hasn’t been based on religious convictions, because I haven’t any.  This has made it easier for me to dismiss arguments made by advocates for the religious right like Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, that homosexuality and same-sex marriages are “against the Lord’s agenda.”

Harrison Street Bears, Gay marriage, San Francisco

“Harrison Street Bears” shop wedding rings at a San Francisco street fair.

One of the things I love about living in the San Francisco Bay Area is its respect for various lifestyles.

On the other hand, I want to respect the beliefs of others even if I disagree, so it is a little harder to dismiss claims that legalizing same-sex marriage will inevitably lead to schools promoting ideas offensive to religious parents. (“Homosexual families are just as good as traditional families.”)

But what if this is true? What if same-sex couples are just as likely to raise healthy children as traditional marriages?

Perkins claims that many years of social science research shows that children who grow up with a mom and dad are emotionally stronger, and do better academically and financially in life. From my experience, I don’t doubt that this is true for two-parent homes, but does it matter if “mom and pop” are male and female or the same sex?

I wish I had witnessed more public discussion of social science research bearing on these questions, and more attention to possible unintended consequences. For example, what can the experience in European countries where same-sex marriage is legal teach us? Has gay marriage in these countries harmed the traditional institution of marriage? In the United States, can gay marriage and heterosexual marriages gracefully coexist?

I’ve been won over

I’ve finally decided that they can, based on sources I respect.

First of all, I’m impressed by President Obama’s recent endorsement. I don’t believe he would be supporting same-sex marriage without a thorough review of the issues involved. The same goes for the voices of former President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Joseph Biden, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The American Psychological Association’s official position of support

And digging a little deeper, I’ve found the endorsement of my own professional association, the American Psychological Association. At its 2010 annual convention in San Diego, the APA’s governing council issued a statement that read in part:

August 11, 2010 “The American Psychological Association reaffirmed its support Wednesday for marriage equality for same-sex couples, noting that its annual convention taking place here this week provides an opportunity to call attention to the science supporting this position.

As the world’s largest organization of psychologists, we felt it was important to make a statement here and now to demonstrate APA’s unwavering support of marriage equality,” said APA President Carol D. Goodheart, EdD. “With the issue playing out so prominently in California, we are using the opportunity presented by our annual convention to present the growing body of science that is the foundation for our position, and that has influenced many of the legislators, judges and other public officials who are working to achieve this goal.

Research has shown that marriage provides substantial psychological and physical health benefits due to the moral, economic and social support extended to married couples. Conversely, recent empirical evidence has illustrated the harmful psychological effect of policies restricting marriage rights for same-sex couples. Additionally, children raised by same-sex couples have been shown to be on par with the children of opposite-sex couples in their psychological adjustment, cognitive abilities and social functioning.”

APA has been a strong advocate for full equal rights for LGBT people for nearly 35 years, based on the social science research on sexual orientation. APA has supported legal benefits for same-sex couples since 1997 and civil marriage for same-sex couples since 2004 . . . .

Same-sex marriage

Brides kiss during their wedding ceremony. Slate Magazine
Photo by Jacques Zorgman/Newsmakers

Fears that gay marriage will destroy traditional marriages appear unfounded. A recent article in Slate Magazine provides a detailed look at the data.

So I’ve overcome my reservations and now support PGPT marriages with all the rights and privileges (and headaches) of heterosexual couples. One day, we will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

It comes down to respecting a person’s right to live and love as he or she chooses under the law. The rule of reason, fairness and sound research have won me over. I still worry about societal pressures on traditional families, but now I’m thinking that institutionalizing same-sex marriage will end up benefiting society. It certainly will make it more just.

5 Responses

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  1. Commentators sometimes overlook the several meanings of the word “marriage”: a legal contract between the members of a couple and the state; a religious sacrament recognizing a commitment between the members of a couple and a divine power; a unique understanding and commitment between the members of a couple; and so on. Some marriages encompass all these meanings, but many do not. To my mind, the purpose of a marriage is to make a family, however one defines “family”. For a lot of people, including me, this doesn’t include procreation. It does include creating an intimate, private core of practical and emotional support that helps its members to function happily in the world. To deny a person the right to fully share their life with a chosen partner is to deny a fundamental human right. As far as children go, when you look at the vast numbers of reasonably happy people produced by the huge variety of often inadequate parenting styles, I can’t see why same-sex parents couldn’t provide such support just as well as opposite-sex ones.

    Suzanne Miller

    June 9, 2012 at 4:02 pm

  2. Well said. We should apply the same logic to marriage involving multiple parners (assuming they are sincere and love each other). Right? Morals and ethics erode in small, logical steps. That is how the majority eventually gets “won over”. What is wrong with allowing gay couples, to have all the rights and privileges of any other couple that is married but perserve the the sacred institution of marriage in it traditonal sense for a man and women? Is the issue about equality of rights and privileges among gay and straight couples or is it more important for the gay agenda , for political reasons to hijack the name “marriage” in stead of a civil union?

    Steve Johnson

    June 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    • We’ll deal with these issues in time. Multiple parties in a marriage is nothing new, and is not a problem for me if everyone involved is happy, treated equally and prospers. The definition of “marriage” has changed over time and varies from culture to culture. Whose “morals and ethics” are you talking about?

      Ron Greene

      June 12, 2012 at 11:34 am

  3. Steve, people do not all share the same moral values, which may be determined by culture, religion, historical era, and so on. Moral and ethical stances evolve with time and discussion, and a change that one morally serious person sees as erosion may be evoluation for another. Ron’s reliance on “reason, fairness, and sound research” reflects a conviction that, ethically, same-sex marriage does not hurt anyone. Granting same-sex couples the legal right to marry takes nothing away from the marriage of opposite-sex couples.The partners in a same-sex marriage leave others free to make their own choices. The example may persuade some to do likewise or may repulse others but for most of their friends and associates will matter only as it makes the partners more or less functional.

    Like Ron, I grew up not questioning the one-man/one-woman model of marriage but my view has evolved. The beginning may have been a novel by James Baldwin some 50 years ago (I forget which one) in which love between two men was clearly normal for them. In the years since, same-sex couples I’ve known have seemed to me to be at least as “married” as traditional couples but have been denied the right to call themselves that. I don’t agree with your implication that this matters for political reasons. It matters because to deny them this right is a way of saying, “you are not really quite on a par with ‘us’; your commitment is second-rate and so we have to call it something different; we are ‘we’ and you are ‘other’.” It subtly excludes some people from the society as a whole.

    Religions, of course, always in some way exclude those who don’t adhere to their received ways. A religious married same-sex couple may be hurt by being denied a religious ceremony, but at least a legal marriage recognizes them as fully included in the wider society. They may still be able to observe sacredness in their marriage in some non-institutional way.

    I greatly admire and respect President Obama and am glad that he spoke out and that his thinking about this has evolved, but his opinion on this matter wouldn’t greatly influence mine. The APA’s research-based opinions, on the other hand, are persuasive. However, if the APA found that same-sex married couples were slightly unhappier than opposite-sex ones, my argument would be unchanged. People should be free to make their own choices, and the choice of whom to marry may be damaging or life-enhancing regardless of the sex of the partner.

    As you say, the same logic might well apply to marriage involving multiple partners. I feel uneasy about multiple marriage, but maybe that’s because I didn’t grow up with that model. I may be rationalizing, but I think it’s a legal minefield and multiplies the likelihood of inequality and bullying and jealousy and abuse and insecurity, and usually it’s multiple wives, not multiple husbands, who are competing for affection and support. Maybe some multiple marriages reflect the free choice of all involved and enhance the lives of all members equally, and maybe with further thought and discussion, and possibly in another context, I would change my mind. I don’t know – I’m getting old and am running out of time.

    Suzanne Miller

    June 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm


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