The policymaking body of the American Psychological Association (APA) unanimously approved the resolution 157-0 on the eve of the group's annual convention, which opens here today.
The group, with more than 154,000 members, has long supported full equal rights for gays, based on social science research on sexual orientation. Now the nation's psychologists — citing an increasing body of research about same-sex marriage, as well as increased discussion at the state and federal levels — took the support to a new level.
"Now as the country has really begun to have experience with gay marriage, our position is much clearer and more straightforward — that marriage equity is the policy that the country should be moving toward," says Clinton Anderson, director of APA's Office on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns.
The resolution points to numerous recent studies, including findings that "many gay men and lesbians, like their heterosexual counterparts, desire to form stable, long-lasting and committed intimate relationships and are successful in doing so."
It adds that "emerging evidence suggests that statewide campaigns to deny same-sex couples legal access to civil marriage are a significant source of stress to the lesbian, gay and bisexual residents of those states and may have negative effects on their psychological well-being."
Six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont) and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
"Psychologists have been very important in helping to keep the discussion at a fact-based level and not let it steer off into stereotypes," says M.V. Lee Badgett, research director at the non-profit Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law & Public Policy at the University of California-Los Angeles.
Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville, says his board is divided on the issue and hasn't taken a stance on same-sex marriage. He says the APA resolution will likely have a broad impact.
"I don't think it's very significant for the population at large, but I do think this move is significant for the ongoing public policy and legal battles in Washington and around the states," he says.
Clinical psychologist Mark Hatzenbuehler, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at Columbia University in New York City, whose new research is cited in the resolution, says the courts tend to look at these kinds of policy statements because "they're really looking to see what social science research says about the influence on gay marriage and marriage bans on a whole host of outcomes."
Badgett's research of gay marriage across cultures is also cited in the resolution. She says the Netherlands was the first to allow gay couples to marry, and it showed "very little change in the overall society, but it was very important to gay couples themselves."
The last APA resolution on sexual orientation and marriage was approved in 2004. The resolution notes that since that time, APA has worked on 11 amicus briefs filed in same-sex marriage cases since 2004.