News and brain candy for the philosophy community
The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) has long focused on the psychological burden associated with the stigmatization of homosexuality and, in articles over the past decade, explored the roots of public opposition to marriage equality; examined the rights and responsibilities of gay parents; and critiqued the “psychological” arguments that are typically put forward regarding gay rights.
In “Social Advocacy for Equal Marriage: The Politics of ‘Rights’ and the Psychology of ‘Mental Health’,” (Analyses of Social Issues of Public Policy, December 2004), Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson argue against the discipline’s dominant narrative regarding homosexuality, with its focus on social stigmatization and the mental health damage or deficit that such stigmatization imposes. They argued instead for a discourse of rights, which “asserts universally applicable principles of equality, justice, freedom, and dignity.” The psychological approach, by contrast, seemed fundamentally “antithetical to the conceptual framework of human rights, as a basis for social justice.”
In “The Rights and Responsibilities of Gay and Lesbian Parents: Legal Developments, Psychological Research, and Policy Implications,” (Social Issues and Policy Review, December 2008), Jared Chamberlain, Monica Miller, and Brian Bornstein enrich the discussion about how courts should deal with gay parents who chose to end their relationship. They argue that children benefit from having continued contact with two parents—even if in gay relationships there may be a biological connection to only one of the parents—and that the children’s well-being is unaffected by their parents’ sexual orientation. The same “best interest” standard that prevails among heterosexual parents in determining child custody should prevail among gay parents, with visitation rights allocated accordingly. A review of the literature reveals that children of lesbian parents showed no differences in terms of “psychological development and family functioning,” exhibited similar levels of self-esteem, and experienced similar gender identity formation processes. They concluded by urging psychologists:
to continue to conduct and publicize the results of research on children of same-sex parents, especially in new areas such as dissolution of the same sex-relationship; they can conduct research comparing families with lesbian gay and heterosexual parents; and they can evaluate children in custodial disputes that result from the breakup of same-sex relationships in the same manner that they work with the children in heterosexual divorce cases.
In “Anti-Equality Marriage Amendments and Sexual Stigma,” (Journal of Social Issues, No. 2, 2011) Gregory Herek summarizes the stigma-based analysis of anti-equality marriage laws and campaigns. He discusses how being denied the legal right to marry because of one’s orientation constitutes an instance of stigma; and being subject to political campaigns promoting anti-equality marriage amendments are a source of heightened stress for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The personal and political are interrelated: The initial enactment and continuing existence of anti-equality marriage laws depend on the continuing salience of such attitudes among the voting public. He closes by asking two questions: How the process of coming out and discussing one’s sexual orientation impacts one’s friends, relatives, and acquaintances; and second, how and why some heterosexual friends and family chose to become allies in the struggle for marriage equality and related structural stigma and prejudice.
Finally, Melanie Duncan and Markus Kemmelmeier focus on what attitudes fuel opposition to same-sex marriage, in their article “Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Marriage: An Essentialist Approach.” They argue that the negative same-sex marriage (SSM) attitudes are the result of essentialist thinking about marriage—that is, thinking that categorizes marriage as universal, unique, invariant, and not the result of human agency. In fact, “essentialist” attitudes about marriage were a more potent predictor of negative SSM even than essentialist conceptions of homosexuality. In that respect, marriage is often conceptualized as if it predated or had an existence independent of the society in which it is practiced; marriage is viewed by opponents of SSM as if it had an “objective” reality, whose essence is formally enshrined. These attitudes are revealed in studies probing essentialist beliefs about homosexuality and essentialist beliefs about marriage: “Although opponents of SSM may be likely to harbor prejudices against homosexuals, their opposition to SSM seems to be more critically motivated by their essentialist perspective on marriage itself.”
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