Life Beyond Therapy
GLBT Marriage is a Mental Health Issue
Published Thursday, 19-Aug-2010 in issue 1182
A few years ago I wrote a column for the GLT called “coming out and your mental health”. As a therapist to the GLBT community, I’ve seen the pain and damage that being closeted creates for us all. Years of pretending to be straight and wishing we were straight destroys our self-esteem: it’s hard to feel good about yourself if you feel like a second-class citizen and there’s nothing you can do about it but suck it up.
Well, dear readers, the time for sucking it up is over. I’m referring specifically to same sex marriage. Whether you want to be married or not, we ALL deserve the right to choose for ourselves…and when you’re a second-class citizen, you don’t have the ability to choose that those in “power” do. The result? Our “domestic partnerships” or “civil unions” or whatever you call them are second class substitutes for legal marriage and the MANY legal rights that come with legal marriage. So you see why…
LGBT marriage IS a mental health issue!
Please be clear, I’m not discussing the mental health aspects of being married versus being single. That’s a whole other subject. I AM talking about the mental health status of being a second-class citizen. Because we’ve lacked the right to be legally married, our relationships may be psychologically experienced as less meaningful, less good, less strong. When you’re a second-class citizen, your relationships don’t “count” as much as straight folks’ do. Your relationships may not be seen by society-at-large as valuable. As a result, GLBT relationships become somewhat invisible and the heterosexist world we live in is likely to see us as somewhat invisible and less valuable too.
In Psychiatric Times magazine, Psychiatrist Jack Drescher wrote that to identify as GLBT is to be “homosexually self-aware, to claim a normative identity.” How can we feel we are good, healthy and “normative” (e.g., psychologically healthy) in our identity as GLBT men and women when our relationships are considered less valuable than those of our heterosexual brothers and sisters? From a mental health angle, I wonder if legalizing same-sex marriage will help make our relationships even stronger. We will certainly benefit from all the legal rights (I believe there are over 200 legal rights that come with legal marriage) that we have not had access to before, e.g., taxation benefits, legal rights in adoption, trusts and wills, etc. This alone will make our relationships easier.
But let’s not neglect a more fundamental aspect of mental health: our relationships may finally be considered “first class” by society in general (e.g., straight folks). This may not come quickly, look at inter-racial marriage, but have no doubt: it WILL come…and this will impact us all, whether we like it or not. We live in a predominantly heterosexist world. Love songs, greeting cards, movies and magazines are mostly for straight folks. THEIR courtships, love affairs, engagements and marriages have long been valued and celebrated. This has, in my opinion, psychologically beaten us GLBTers down. Legalizing same sex marriage is yet another step in fighting back and refusing to accept a second-class role in American society. Despite Monday’s ruling, I remain optimistic. We are making progress, step-by-step. Not as fast as I’d like, but progress nonetheless.
As a mental health professional, I view same sex marriage as a mental health issue. After all, mental health is about feeling good about yourself, your life, your relationships and knowing you have choices about how to express yourself, in life and love. Whether you personally want to get married or not, don’t you want to be able to make that choice for yourself? On a psychological and sociological level: choices are power. People in power have options; powerless people do not.
For decades, we GLBT people have been rendered powerless in countless ways by heterosexist American society. One-by-one, we are eliminating these obstacles and embracing what I call “healthy power”. Healthy power means choice; healthy power is about choosing to legally marry…or not. We all deserve that kind of power.