Sexual Orientation & Marriage

Adopted by the APA Council of Representatives July 28 & 30, 2004. Reaffirmed by Council Aug. 11 & 15, 2010.

Research Summary

Minority Stress in Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Individuals

Psychological and psychiatric experts have agreed since 1975 that homosexuality is neither a form of mental illness nor a symptom of mental illness (Conger, 1975). Nonetheless, there is growing recognition that social prejudice, discrimination, and violence against lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals take a cumulative toll on the well-being of these individuals. Researchers (e.g., DiPlacido, 1998; Meyer, 2003) use the term "minority stress" to refer to the negative effects associated with the adverse social conditions experienced by individuals who belong to a stigmatized social group (e.g., the elderly, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, the physically disabled, women, the poor or those on welfare, or individuals who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual).

A recent meta-analysis of population-based epidemiological studies showed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations have higher rates of stress-related psychiatric disorders (such as those related to anxiety, mood, and substance use) than do heterosexual populations (Meyer, 2003). These differences are not large but are relatively consistent across studies (e.g., Cochran & Mays, 2000; Cochran, Sullivan, & Mays, 2003; Gilman et al., 2001; Mays & Cochran, 2001). Meyer also provided evidence that within lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations, those who more frequently felt stigmatized or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, who had to conceal their homosexuality, or who were prevented from affiliating with other lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals tended to report more frequent mental health concerns. Research also shows that compared to heterosexual individuals and couples, gay and lesbian individuals and couples experience economic disadvantages (e.g., Badgett, 2001). Finally, the violence associated with hate crimes puts lesbians, gay men and bisexual individuals at risk for physical harm to themselves, their families, and their property (D'Augelli, 1998; Herek, Gillis, & Cogan, 1999). Taken together, the evidence clearly supports the position that the social stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence associated with not having a heterosexual sexual orientation and the hostile and stressful social environments created thereby adversely affect the psychological, physical, social, and economic well-being of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals.

Same-Sex Couples

Research indicates that many gay men and lesbians want and have committed relationships. For example, survey data indicate that between 40% and 60% of gay men and between 45% and 80% of lesbians are currently involved in a romantic relationship (e.g., Bradford, Ryan, & Rothblum, 1994; Falkner & Garber, 2002; Morris, Balsam, & Rothblum, 2002). Further, data from the 2000 United States Census (Simons & O'Connell, 2003) indicate that of the 5.5 million couples who were living together but not married, about 1 in 9 (594,391) had partners of the same sex. Although the Census data are almost certainly an underestimate of the actual number of cohabiting same-sex couples, they indicated that a male householder and a male partner headed 301,026 households and that a female householder and a female partner headed 293,365 households.1

Despite persuasive evidence that gay men and lesbians have committed relationships, three concerns about same-sex couples are often raised. A first concern is that the relationships of gay men and lesbians are dysfunctional and unhappy. To the contrary, studies that have compared partners from same-sex couples to partners from heterosexual couples on standardized measures of relationship quality (such as satisfaction and commitment) have found partners from same-sex and heterosexual couples to be equivalent to each other (see reviews by Peplau & Beals, 2004; Peplau & Spalding, 2000).

A second concern is that the relationships of gay men and lesbians are unstable. However, research indicates that, despite the somewhat hostile social climate within which same-sex relationships develop, many lesbians and gay men have formed durable relationships. For example, survey data indicate that between 18% and 28% of gay couples and between 8% and 21% of lesbian couples have lived together 10 or more years (e.g., Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Bryant & Demian, 1994; Falkner & Garber, 2002; Kurdek, 2003). Researchers (e.g., Kurdek, 2004) have also speculated that the stability of same-sex couples would be enhanced if partners from same-sex couples enjoyed the same levels of social support and public recognition of their relationships as partners from heterosexual couples do.

A third concern is that the processes that affect the well-being and permanence of the relationships of lesbian and gay persons are different from those that affect the relationships of heterosexual persons. In fact, research has found that the factors that predict relationship satisfaction, relationship commitment, and relationship stability are remarkably similar for both same-sex cohabiting couples and heterosexual married couples (Kurdek, 2001, 2004).

Resolution

Whereas APA has a long-established policy to deplore "all public and private discrimination against gay men and lesbians" and urges "the repeal of all discriminatory legislation against lesbians and gay men" (Conger, 1975, p. 633);

Whereas the APA adopted the Resolution on Legal Benefits for Same-Sex Couples in 1998 (Levant, 1998, pp. 665-666);

Whereas discrimination and prejudice based on sexual orientation detrimentally affect psychological, physical, social, and economic well-being (Badgett, 2001; Cochran, Sullivan, & Mays, 2003; Herek, Gillis, & Cogan, 1999; Meyer, 2003);

Whereas "anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide[s] no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution" (American Anthropological Association, 2004);

Whereas psychological research on relationships and couples provides no evidence to justify discrimination against same-sex couples (Kurdek, 2001, 2004; Peplau & Beals, 2004; Peplau & Spalding, 2000);

Whereas the institution of civil marriage confers a social status (Donovan, 2003; Goodridge v. Dep't of Public Health, 2003; Johnson, 2000; Kujovich, 2000; Maynard v. Hill, 1888; Turner v. Safley, 1987) and important legal benefits, rights, and privileges (Baehr v. Lewin, 1993; Baker v. State, 1999; Goodridge v. Dep't of Public Health, 2003);

Whereas the United States General Accounting Office (2004) has identified over 1,000 federal statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, and privileges, for example, those concerning taxation, federal loans, and dependent and survivor benefits (e.g., Social Security, military, and veterans);

Whereas there are numerous state, local, and private sector laws and other provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, and privileges, for example, those concerning taxation, health insurance, health care decision-making, property rights, pension and retirement benefits, and inheritance (Baehr v. Lewin, 1993; Baker v. State, 1999; Goodridge v. Dep't of Public Health, 2003);

Whereas same-sex couples are denied equal access to civil marriage (Eskridge, 1999);

Whereas same-sex couples who enter into a civil union are denied equal access to all the benefits, rights, and privileges provided by federal law to married couples (United States General Accounting Office, 2004) (Eskridge, 2001; Recent Legislation, Act Relating to Civil Unions, 2001; Strasser, 2000);

Whereas the benefits, rights, and privileges associated with domestic partnerships are not universally available (Allison, 2003), are not equal to those associated with marriage (Shin, 2002; Strasser, 2002), and are rarely portable (Shin, 2002; Strasser, 2002);

Whereas people who also experience discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, disability, gender and gender identity, religion, and socioeconomic status may especially benefit from access to marriage for same-sex couples (Division 44/Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns Joint Task Force on Guidelines for Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients, 2000);

Therefore be it resolved that the APA believes that it is unfair and discriminatory to deny same-sex couples legal access to civil marriage and to all its attendant benefits, rights, and privileges;

Therefore be it further resolved that APA shall take a leadership role in opposing all discrimination in legal benefits, rights, and privileges against same-sex couples;

Therefore be it further resolved that APA encourages psychologists to act to eliminate all discrimination against same-sex couples in their practice, research, education and training (American Psychological Association, 2002);

Therefore be it further resolved that the APA shall provide scientific and educational resources that inform public discussion and public policy development regarding sexual orientation and marriage and that assist its members, divisions, and affiliated state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations.

End Note

  1. The same-sex couples identified in the U.S. Census may include couples in which one or both partners are bisexually identified, rather than gay or lesbian identified.

References

Allison, Gary D. (2003). Sanctioning sodomy: The Supreme Court liberates gay sex and limits state power to vindicate the moral sentiments of the people. Tulsa Law Review, 39, 95-153.

American Anthropological Association. (2004). Statement on marriage and family from the American Anthropological Association. Retrieved May 11, 2004, from http://www.aaanet.org/press/ma_stmt_marriage.htm.

American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1073.

Badgett, M.V.L. (2001). Money, myths, and change: The economic lives of lesbians and gay men. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Baehr v. Lewin, 852 P.2d 44, 59 (Haw. 1993).

Baker v. State, 744 A.2d 864, 883-884 (Vt. 1999).

Blumstein, P., & Schwartz, P. (1983). American couples: Money, work, sex. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Bradford, J., Ryan, C., & Rothblum, E.D. (1994). National lesbian health care survey: Implications for mental health care. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 228-242.

Bryant, A.S., & Demian, R. (1994). Relationship characteristics of gay and lesbian couples: Findings from a national survey. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 1, 101-117.

Cochran, S. ., & Mays, V.M. (2000). Relation between psychiatric syndromes and behaviorally defined sexual orientation in a sample of the US population. Journal of Epidemiology, 151, 516-523.

Cochran, S.D., Sullivan, J.G., & Mays, V.M. (2003). Prevalence of mental disorders, psychological distress, and mental health service use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 53-61.

Conger, J.J. (1975). Proceedings of the American Psychological Association, Incorporated, for the year 1974: Minutes of the annual meeting of the Council of Representatives. American Psychologist, 30, 620-651.

D'Augelli, A.R. (1998). Developmental implications of victimization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths. In G.M. Herek (Ed.), Stigma and sexual orientation: Understanding prejudice against lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals (pp. 187-210). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

DiPlacido, J. (1998). Minority stress among lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals: A consequence of heterosexism, homophobia, and stigmatization. In G.M. Herek (Ed.), Stigma and sexual orientation (pp. 138-159). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Division 44/Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns Joint Task Force on Guidelines for Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients. (2000). Guidelines for Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients. American Psychologist, 55, 1440-1451.

Donovan, J.M. (2003). Same-sex union announcements: Whether newspapers must publish them, and why should we care. Brooklyn Law Review, 68, 721-807.

Eskridge, W.N., Jr. (1999). Gaylaw: Challenging the apartheid of the closet (pp. 134-135). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Eskridge, W.N., Jr. (2001). Equality practice: Liberal reflections on the jurisprudence of civil unions. Albany Law Review, 64, 853-881.

Falkner, A., & Garber, J. (2002). 2001 gay/lesbian consumer online census. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University, OpusComm Group, and GSociety.

Gilman, S.E., Cochran, S.D., Mays, V.M., Hughes, M., Ostrow, D., & Kessler, R.C. (2001). Risks of psychiatric disorders among individuals reporting same-sex sexual partners in the National Comorbidity Survey. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 933-939.

Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941, 955-958 (Mass. 2003).

Herek, G.M., Gillis, J.R., & Cogan, J.C. (1999). Psychological sequelae of hate crime victimization among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, 945-951.

Johnson, Greg. (2000). Vermont civil unions: The new language of marriage. Vermont Law Review, 25, 15-60.

Knauer, Nancy J. (2002). The September 11 attacks and surviving same-sex partners: Defining family through tragedy. Temple Law Review, 75, 31-98.

Kujovich, Gil. (2000). An essay on the passive virtue of Baker v. State. Vermont Law Review, 25, 96-112.

Kurdek, L.A. (2001). Differences between heterosexual non-parent couples and gay, lesbian, and heterosexual parent couples. Journal of Family Issues, 22, 727-754.

Kurdek, L.A. (2003). Differences between gay and lesbian cohabiting couples. Journal of Social Personal Relationships, 20, 411-436.

Kurdek, L.A. (2004). Are gay and lesbian cohabiting couples really different from heterosexual married couples? Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 880-901.

Levant, R.F. (1999). Proceedings of the American Psychological Association, Incorporated, for the legislative year 1998: Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Council of Representatives, February 20-22, 1998, Washington, DC, and August 13 and 16, 1998, San Francisco, CA, and Minutes of the February, June, August, and December meetings of the Board of Directors. American Psychologist, 54, 605-671.

Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190, 211 (1888).

Mays, V.M., & Cochran, S.D. (2001). Mental health correlates of perceived discrimination among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1869-1876.

Meyer, I.H. (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.F., Balsam, K.F., & Rothblum, E.D. (2002). Lesbian and bisexual mothers and nonmothers: Demographics and the coming-out process. Developmental Psychology, 16, 144156.

Peplau, L.A., & Beals, K.P. (2004). The family lives of lesbians and gay men. In A.L. Vangelisti (Ed.), Handbook of family communication (pp. 233-248). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Peplau, L.A., & Spalding, L.R. (2000). The close relationships of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. In C. Hendrick & S.S. Hendrick (Eds.), Close relationships: A sourcebook (pp. 111123). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Recent legislation, act relating to civil unions. (2001). Harvard Law Review, 114, 1421-1426.

Shin, Eileen. (2002). Same-sex unions and domestic partnership. Georgetown Journal of Gender & Law, 4, 272-278.

Simons, T., & O'Connell, M. (2003). Married-couple and unmarried-partner households: 2000. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved October 25, 2004, from http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/censr-5.pdf.

Strasser, Mark. (2000). Mission impossible: On Baker, equal benefits, and the imposition of stigma. William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, 9, 1-27.

Strasser, Mark. (2002). Some observations about doma, marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships. Capital University Law Review, 30, 363-386.

Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 95-96 (1987).

United States General Accounting Office. (2004, January 23). Defense of Marriage Act: Update to Prior Report [GAO-04-353R]. Retrieved May 19, 2004, from http://www.gao.gov.


Please cite this policy statement as:
Paige, R.U. (2005). Proceedings of the American Psychological Association, Incorporated, for the legislative year 2004. Minutes of the meeting of the Council of Representatives July 28 & 30, 2004, Honolulu, HI. Retrieved November 18, 2004, from the World Wide Web http://www.apa.org/about/policy. (To be published in Volume 60, Issue Number 5 of the American Psychologist.)

Council Policy Manual