APA Praises DOMA Decision as Victory for Science, Human Dignity

The American Psychological Association commended the June 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruling today overturning the Defense of Marriage Act is a triumph for social science and recognition of the basic dignity of all American citizens,” said APA President Donald N. Bersoff, Ph.D., J.D. “The American Psychological Association is gratified that the court found there is no legitimate reason for denying equal treatment under federal law to same-sex couples.”

APA filed “friend of the court” briefs in both the same-sex marriage cases decided by the court –Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenged California’s Proposition 8, and U.S. v. Windsor, which challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The court found the petitioners in the Proposition 8 case did not have legal standing to challenge a lower court decision, finding that the referendum did not pass constitutional muster. The ruling in Perry that stands after  the Supreme Court ruling includes extensive citations to social science research as the basis for its conclusion that Proposition 8 did not further a valid governmental purpose.

Denying recognition to legally married same-sex couples stigmatizes them, according to APA’s briefs. “Empirical research demonstrates that the psychological and social aspects of committed relationships between same-sex partners largely resemble those of heterosexual partnerships,” the briefs stated. “Like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples form deep emotional attachments and commitments. Heterosexual and same-sex couples alike face similar issues concerning intimacy, love, equity, loyalty and stability, and they go through similar processes to address those issues.”

The APA briefs cited empirical scientific evidence that demonstrates that “homosexuality is a normal expression of human sexuality, is generally not chosen and is highly resistant to change.” Likewise, “there is no scientific basis for concluding that gay and lesbian parents are any less fit or capable than heterosexual parents, or that their children are any less psychologically healthy and well-adjusted,” according to the briefs.

“In drawing conclusions, we rely on the best empirical research available, focusing on general patterns rather than any single study,” the briefs stated. All the studies cited in the brief were critically evaluated to assess their methodology, including the reliability and validity of the measures and tests employed, and the quality of data-collection procedures and statistical analyses.

Bersoff noted that APA has a long history of supporting equal access to legal marriage based on years of scientific research. APA has supported legal benefits for same-sex couples since 1997 and civil marriage for same-sex couples since 2004. APA has adopted policy statements, lobbied Congress in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment, and filed amicus briefs supporting same-sex marriage in legal cases in Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, New York (three times), Maryland, Connecticut, Iowa, and California. In California, the APA brief was cited by the state Supreme Court when it ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in May 2008.

Joining APA in filing the Windsor and Perry briefs were: the American Academy of Pediatrics; American Medical Association; California Medical Association; American Psychiatric Association; American Psychoanalytic Association; and National Association of Social Workers. Also joining the Windsor brief were: the New York City and New York state chapters of the National Association of Social Workers and the New York State Psychological Association. Also joining the Perry brief were the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy; the California Chapter of NASW and the California Psychological Association.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA’s membership includes more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

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