A friend of mine wants to know if there's a reason gays and lesbians need to get married. Heterosexuals, he says, get married for the express purpose of making a family. Why would anyone else care?

They want to make a family, too, I say.

An ah ha moment, hours later, having discussed this for hours over dinner. Hours later there's an ah ha moment.

There are a few things a person should understand about this subject, I think, a few basic things.

We could start with homophobia.

There's a Boston Legal episode in which a judge presents himself as a plaintiff because he has spent $40,000 to have his SSAD cured and he is NOT cured. He's suing.

What's SSAD?

I, too, wanted to know.

What is SSAD? asks Dennie (William Shatner) of the judge who is afraid he has it.

Same Sex Attraction Disorder.

The judge thinks there is something wrong with him because he is attracted to other men. He doesn't think he's gay. He can't possibly be gay. He thinks he must have a disorder if he has these feelings for men.

Sure, it's a send-off, a comedy, very funny, and highly recommended, but people do feel this way even in our more accepting society, a society that is slowly legalizing gay marriage, albeit regionally. Some people have very unsettling feelings about same-sex attraction, like they personally are bad for having sexual, emotionally charged, loving feelings for people of their own biological sex. This is called internalized homophobia, and it can start very young.

There is no Same Sex Attraction Disorder in the DSM-IV*. Never had one (not with that specific label, homosexuality sufficed); never will.

The medical establishment defines homosexuality as a sexual orientation, having a primary emotional/sexual attraction for individuals of the same biological sex. It is not a choice, and it is not a disorder.

Upon comprehending that they are supposed to get married one day to girls, many little boys are terrified at that realization. They panic, feel revulsion. Sure, certain little boys who are not gay will also express revulsion, too, at the thought of marriage to little girls. But when they get older, they're not in conflict about it anymore.

A boy who knows he likes boys won't express his true feelings, won't tell people about them, if they are obviously culturally taboo. He is likely to have self-esteem problems, too, if being gay is considered something bad in his community. Girls in love with girls have the same problem, conflicted feelings, sometimes shameful, and no one to talk to about them.

The beginning of the nightmare. You don't have to explain homophobia** to many young gays and lesbians who still, for the most part, are coming of age in heterosexist cultural environments. But this is changing, if not everywhere.

About half-way through the show, in my second mile (I walk slowly on the treadmill, jogging is for people who are in shape) Alan Shore, another lawyer, warns Dennie Don't fool yourself, Dennie. People feel that homosexuality is a treatable condition, something that can be changed if one has the will, the faith, the right tools, the time, and puts forth the effort to change.

Patently untrue.

In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association threw homosexuality out of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-II, I think). The medical profession determined that having an emotional/sexual desire for an individual of the same biological sex is not associated with any mental pathology. There is nothing inherently sick about being gay or lesbian, bisexual, etc.

Like any heterosexual, a homosexual might surely have Axis I or Axis II disorders, such as depression, anorexia, alcohol or other substance dependence, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality. Just about anything in the DSM is possible for gays and straights in equal measure. But being homosexual per se is not being sick. No more so than being heterosexual alone makes one sick.

Kinsey first discovered that in fact, emotional/sexual attraction, what we now call sexual orientation, falls on a continuum, like other individual traits.

There's everything in between to two poles.

A person who has primarily (mostly) homosexual emotional/sexual attraction (left half of the continuum) is thought to have a sexual minority orientation.

Among other things you should know, especially if you are going to become a therapy doc, is that mental health professionals are liable to come under intense professional peer review if they tell students or clients that they can change their sexual orientation.

Think about it from the perspective of heterosexuality. Could you (assuming you consider yourself a heterosexual) will yourself to a primary emotional/sexual attraction to someone of your own biological sex?

Probably not. It might happen. You may have some same-sex attraction, everyone does, probably in their life-time, although they won't call the papers. Sexuality is quite fluid. But you can't will it to happen.

Likewise for people whose primary emotional/sexual attraction is toward individuals of the same biological sex. They can't will their brains to light up for opposite biologically-sexed individuals.

But if that brain lights up for someone in an intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical way, and there's that certain compatibility, certain comfort level, warmth, and assured security that this person should share a bed, become a partner, an executive committee member of a family, related, partnered in this way forever and ever? Then marriage is certainly one way of putting that into writing.

Marriage is a contract, and people like a deal.

What is interesting about it for someone like me is this: Having fought so hard for the legal right to this contract, one that includes the benefits and trials of marriage, will gays and lesbians have a lower divorce rate than heterosexuals? I think heterosexuals are closing in on fifty percent, have been for twenty years.

I know, I know, too many variables to tell. But we'll be watching.

copyright 2008, therapydoc

*The American Psychiatric Association publishes the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. We're now in the fourth edition, patiently awaiting the fifth.

**This is called internalized homophobia, when a gay or lesbian begins to fear being himself (herself).


FeministGal said…
"A friend of mine wants to know if there's a reason gays and lesbians need to get married. Heterosexuals, he says, get married for the express purpose of making a family. Why would anyone else care?

They want to make a family, too, I say."

Not only that but there are so many other rights that go along with "marriage." Also, maybe help your friend understand that to deny someone something based on their sexual orientation (or their skin, or gender, or age, etc) turns that person into a second class citizen and tells them they are not as much of a person as you... and she wouldn't want that, now would she? ;)
therapydoc said…
Of course not, Feministgal, and I'll pass that along. She's a he, for the record :)
linrob63 said…
Does your he friend really believe that people get married for the express purpose of creating a family (my assumption that means children)?

My job requires that I conduct some periodic demographic analyis. And recently, I discovered that childlessness, both by chance and choice among women between the ages of 15 and 44 is hovering now at about45%. That is up from 35% in 1976.

I do not know the data on married women who choose not to be moms and when I get the time, I have an interest in finding out.

It makes my insides cringe when I hear people say that same sex marriage is a threat to marriage. Addiction is a threat to marriage. Violence is a threat to marriage. Poverty is a threat to marriage. Abuse is a threat to marriage. Inequality is a threat to marriage. But same sex marriage is not a threat to marriage.

My best friend on the planet is lesbian and has made a home and life with her partner/companion/civilly committed contractee. They are not a threat to marriage.

I believe the people who foster fear and to some extent hatred by insisting that love is somehow an abomination and launch passionate efforts to actually write discrimination into the laws and constitutions of our states are a way bigger threat to marriage.

Granted, I say this as a 44 year old woman who has never been and does not really have any desire to be married.

Hmmmm...maybe I am a bigger threat to marriage.
therapydoc said…
Addiction is a threat to marriage. Violence is a threat to marriage. Poverty is a threat to marriage. Abuse is a threat to marriage. Inequality is a threat to marriage.

My kind of girl. Such great words.

In all fairness, I think my friend was really interested in definitions. He liked what he thought was the definition of marriage, man/woman.

We talked about other words, like pairage, or life-longage or commitage, all in good spirit, nothing disparaging to anyone.

I think the dialog is healthy and a great way to disseminate the kinds of things you're saying. Thanks.

My kids used to say that we couldn't sit down at the table with guests without me beating on someone about this, which wasn't true. But if the subject came up, well. . .

People have too talk and it's still very new, this legal status.

Then there's Sulu's marriage.
Hm.... Interesting post. I wish I could share it with my mom, but she doesn't do computers. I keep meaning to spend some time with her on that one....

My mom thinks that gay marriage will degrade the sanctity of her marriage. Now, any threats to her marriage came from a combination of her and my dad (her husband), not from outside forces, but I don't think that she understands this.

A great quote from my mom, "If gays can get married, why not the polygamists?" Hm..... I think it's partly a generational difference.
therapydoc said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
therapydoc said…
Right, could be generational, but parents of your mom's generation who attend PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for support don't think this way.

I really think it's a desensitization thing, and some people don't desensitize so easily.
linrob63 said…
Sulu's Marriage?
Anonymous said…
I disagree that it is unchangeable but the methods used to change a person are often simplistic and unhealthy sometimes and cause more troubles as well as ignoring it causes troubles too.
estee said…
Let's face it, marriage in the U.S. is an economic/legal union -- it's about legal rights and obligations, including (for example) inheritance, medical decision-making, spousal insurance benefits, taxes,guardianship of children, etc, etc. This is most powerfully evident in divorce...Divorce is all about splitting stuff up, separating the civil/legal union. It has nothing to do with the emotional bond between two people. The court doesn't really care whether you love each other anymore or not.

The emotional side of making a home and a family can (and DOES) happen without any legal "marriage" process.

Somewhere,somehow, we've conflated the two -- maybe because when you love someone you want to share stuff with them -- and the only way you can do that completely is with the authority of the state.

If we do away with "marriage" as a legal institution (replace it with something like a domestic contract), we avoid the gay marriage debate and all of the privilege accorded to straight people based on the legal system. When you want to end your contract, you just "renegotiate" another contract. Those who want to make a lifetime EMOTIONAL commitment can do so within another context (e.g. religious). Why should the state be ruling our emotional/sexual lives anyway???

Interestingly enough, Europeans are far more relaxed about the legal part of marriage -- they live together, have children, etc etc without benefit of a legal union. I wonder if their divorce rate is lower than the U.S...

P.S. TD...not all boys (and girls) who discover that they are attracted to the same sex feel bad about themselves and try to hide it. It really depends on lots and lots of stuff (e.g. parents,etc)... but it's definitely not a given, especially in today's society.
Anonymous said…
I guess I was raised not to discriminate against anyone and I have the belief if you love it I like it. Gay marriages does not bother me at all. Love is Love regardless who feels it. We really need to stop judging each other and learn how to accept it each.
therapydoc said…
Fascinating, Estee. Great thoughts.

You must have read the first posting of this essay because I edited it and by 11 a.m., for sure, Chicago time, "a given" got the axe.

I often will post and edit, post and edit. It's easier to read these things as they appear published than using the editor. The email doesn't go out until evening, which gives me time to read it, rethink what I wrote, and edit a bit. A lot.

You wouldn't believe the stuff I catch myself saying. Thanks for your input.
Psychiatry101 said…
I am sooo surprised to know that homosexuality was part of DSM criteria once!
great post!
therapydoc said…
I think crazier still is the idea that when I was a kid, nobody even talked about homosexuality. At all. Not family, not friends, not teachers.

It just never came up?
Isle Dance said…
Since the benefits of marriage can be obtained via drawn-up legal docs (which can be changed at will, economically, if relationships change) - and since the divorce rate is so high - I'm still confused as to why anyone at all marries. One can have their cake and eat it too, without potential future legal hassles. So I don't believe in marriage at all. I think it's costing everyone way too much money and pain. Besides...it's akin to legal ownership. Love is not supposed to be legal ownership (anymore).
therapydoc said…
I, personally, as many of you must know, am in it for the heat.
benjamin said…
The medical establishment defines homosexuality as a sexual orientation, having a primary emotional/sexual attraction for individuals of the same biological sex. It is not a choice, and it is not a disorder.

I was not aware of this definition. Is this just common knowledge among professionals, or is there a textual source?

In any case, I think these two sentences should be repeated over and over and over again.

It's nice to see full marriage equality finally gaining some steam nation-wide. The issue is such a no brainer. I'm so proud of San Francisco -- it would have never happened here in CA without the city and its mayor pushing it forward. (With support from Jewish groups such as PJA.)
Anonymous said…
I am gay and have been in the same relationship for twenty years. I don't really care if we can amrry or not but I'd like the same kind of rights as a married couple, mainly for when we get old. In addition a commitment is important.
therapydoc said…
Benjamin, it's from the literature. For interesting reading on this see Herdt, G. (1989) a nice anthology, Gay and Lesbian Youth, or Herek, G.M. and Green (Eds.) Stigma and sexual orientation: Understanding prejudice. . .

Anything by D'Augelli, A. R., and Hershberger, S.L.

or Hetrick, E.S. & Martin, A.D., Kurdek, L.A.

or Elizur , Y.
Anonymous said…
Benjamin, check out the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association. Both have interesting statements about sexual orientation and "reparative" therapy.

What's most interesting is that both organizations talk about sexual orientation as a continuum expressed through behaviors (rather than some essential character quality). Heterosexuality and Homosexuality are "scientific" categories marking each end of the continuum -- and behaviors fall all along the continuum. The AIDS epidemic has (unfortunately) revealed that while many people identify with one category or another, their behaviors may be elsewhere on the continuum.

("Unfortunately" because many people (women) have been infected with HIV because their partners (men) do not identify as "homosexual" or "bisexual", although they have sex with men.)

I like talking about behaviors rather than labels because it allows us to focus on "healthy" behaviors such as respect, communication, honesty, etc. -- as well as "unhealthy" behaviors such as domestic violence, coercion/rape, child abuse, etc.
porcini66 said…
I watch my dog go nuts when there is something different in the yard - might just be a plastic bag from the grocery blowing in the wind. He barks, snarls, his hackles go up, his legs get stiff. He is all about defending his territory and protecting his loved ones. In my belief, we are nothing more than animals with a sometimes unfortunate, overblown and misplaced capacity for judgement.

I think that, for many people, there are two issues - the "civil liberties" piece and the "commitment and love" piece - disgust with one leads to denial of the other. Obviously, people get "freaked" by the thought of same sex relationships because they are different from societal "norms". That, in turn, leads to fear (anything different has the potential to be scary) which leads to those pesky discriminatory attitudes.

For me, why should they NOT have the same "rights and privileges" as any other committed couple?? At some point, our society will hopefully learn to accept others for who they are, period.

Thanks for writing.
david santos said…
Excellent post, my friend, excellent!
Happy weekend
phd in yogurtry said…
Excellent post, therapydoc. I'm behind your mission 110%.
Isle Dance said…
Interesting points.

Friends of mine considered themselves heterosexual until they experienced sexualized trauma, at which point they either felt repulsed by or imprinted by the experience, thus changing their future behaviors...for different reasons...as they wondered if they could find a way to get back to the way they once were.

And after a heterosexual rape, one might not be able to participate in certain aspects of that which they previously enjoyed, but they want to work on/through it, so they can participate in all as they once enjoyed it.

So, I like these reminders that there are so many facets, emotions and behaviors along the line. It does kind of make labels seem a bit confining.
Rob at Kintropy said…
I think you, and the folks leaving comments, have covered many of the issues here.

My parents have been involved in PFLAG over the years, and they have enjoyed meeting other people, speaking at schools, etc., so a plug for PFLAG in case anyone is interested.
Anonymous said…
Hands down the best thread on this topic I've had the pleasure of reading. I'm recommending it to all my friends, gay and straight.
Mark said…
I love what you have stated here and how you have laid it out. Marriage is a committment, that is the primary reason for same sex marriages. People want to commit to each other in front of the world and say this is the person whom I am spending my life with. I don't buy the reason is because they want to have a family. Many hetrosexual couples get married and never have children and some, like Gene Simmons of Kiss choose to have a wonderful family and never get married. Marriage is about committment and security. Thanks for taking on such a great subject.
Anonymous said…
Great post.

It may seem like I'm stating the really obvious, and if so I apologise but what hopped into my mind when you wrote the question ('Why would anyone else care?') is simply this:

It would make them happy.

All the legal, principled reasons hold too but I think it's also because it's about sharing the love/joy at a deeper level. Making a family/ committing to each other isn't about biological reproduction for the sake of it - it's about what rules us. And for many people that something is love. So being denied the experience of the major societal custom that consistently reinforces the importance of love, and one's happiness in a relationship is the worst kind of invalidation.
Syd said…
I think that marriage is becoming outdated. It was about having children so that the stigma of being a bastard wouldn't occur. And it was expected that people would marry rather than live together. The legal aspect alone is enough today to make one think twice. I believe that if people still want to be married then it is fine. And if gays want to find out what so many heterosexuals have found out: That it's easy to get married but difficult and painful to become "unmarried"--they that's okay. I think that eventually marriage will go the way of the do do bird.
therapydoc said…
Just to clarify to those of you who misunderstood my definition of family, for me, it's not necessary to have children to create a family with a marriage ceremony.

I see it as two people committed to support one another through the good times (like that's necessary) and the bad (when it IS necessary).

That's family.
Great post, and I was happy to see from the comments, well received.

The divorce issue is actually a huge issue, as same-sex married couples, and the legal systems of various states, are now finding out. See the L.A. Times for a recent article. (Most interesting, the woman featured now considers herself an advocate -- it took divorce to do that to her).