Feature

On July 28, the APA Council of Representatives adopted a resolution supporting civil marriage for same-sex couples and opposing discrimination against same-sex parents. The resolution passed unanimously and in near-record time--only five months after council first proposed a working group on the subject and three months after the working group formed.

Recent debates--and legal action--concerning same-sex marriage in California, Massachusetts and other states spurred the quick action, according to Armand Cerbone, PhD, chair of the working group and a clinical psychologist in Chicago.

"Given the timeliness and urgency of the issue, APA wanted to be able to inform the public debate with research literature as quickly as possible," he says.

The specific trigger for the resolution, Cerbone says, came during the meeting of the Public Interest Caucus at the February 2004 council meeting, when psychologist John Lorenz, PhD, mentioned that community members, media and clients had been asking about APA's position on gay marriage.

Realizing that APA had given no official word on this, Cerbone, Lorenz, APA Board of Directors member Ruth Ullmann Paige, PhD, and Div. 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues) representatives Kristin Hancock, PhD, and Doug Haldeman, PhD, decided to propose at the next day's council meeting that APA establish a working group to review the literature on the topic and come up with recommendations.

Council approved that motion and asked the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) to appoint the working group. BAPPI then requested nominations from the Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns.

The final working group members--Cerbone, Hancock, Beverly Greene, PhD, Lawrence Kurdek, PhD, Candace McCullogh, PhD, Charlotte Patterson, PhD, and Anne Peplau, PhD--met from April 30 to May 2 to review previous APA policies related to same-sex relationships, marriage and families, as well as relevant research. They focused on two areas of research: same-sex relationships and marriage, and same-sex parents and their children.

The group took pains to stay within the bounds of psychologists' expertise, says Peplau, a professor of social psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied gay and lesbian relationships for nearly 30 years.

"One of the challenges for the working group was to sort out what we can say as professional psychologists and what topics are not our province," she explains. "It was really important that the working group address issues of civil marriage and civil laws, and not religious ones. We all wanted to be very respectful of people's differing views."

The final resolution references years of psychological research and states the group's conclusions:

  • Psychological research on relationships and couples provides no evidence to justify discrimination against same-sex couples. The working group members cited research that many gay men and lesbians both want and have committed relationships: Studies have found that between 40 and 60 percent of gay men and between 45 and 80 percent of lesbians are involved in committed relationships.

Also, reviews by Peplau and her colleagues have found that partners from same-sex couples and partners from heterosexual couples score comparably on measures of relationship quality, such as satisfaction and commitment. Finally, Kurdek has found that the factors that predict satisfaction, commitment and stability are similar in same-sex couples and heterosexual couples.

  • There is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation. Lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children. The working group cited statistics from the 2000 census that 33 percent of female same-sex couples have at least one child under 18 in their home, as do 22 percent of male same-sex couples.

Researchers have found that sexual identity, personality and social relationships with peers and adults develop similarly in those children as they do in children of heterosexual parents, according to the group.

Next, the working group put its resolution before APA's Board of Directors, asking it for an expedited review process. Often, it can take as long as 18 months for APA's various boards and committees to review a resolution, but this time all comments were received within one month.

Then, in July, the resolution came before council at APA's 2004 Annual Convention in Honolulu.

"What's significant is that not only did it pass, but it passed unanimously--and this is a sensitive issue," says Cerbone.

Cerbone also says that he found it serendipitous that council passed the resolution at a meeting in Hawaii--the first state to consider the issue of same-sex marriage and the first state to amend its constitution to officially bar same-sex couples from marrying.

Now that APA has passed the resolution, Cerbone says, APA's next step will be to prepare amicus curiae briefs in court cases involving same-sex marriage.

Nathalie Gilfoyle, JD, APA's general counsel, says that her office is working on the first of those briefs right now and will use the working group's report as a resource to identify important research and experts. The case, Lewis v. Harris, involves seven same-sex couples in New Jersey who are suing the state for the right to marry.

Working group member Patterson, a professor at the University of Virginia who studies children of lesbian and gay parents, agrees that this is an important next step.

"Historically, APA has been very much in front on social justice issues of different kinds, and I'm delighted to see us step forward on this," she says.