Psychology, Gay Marriage and Why We Will Never be Convinced

9 Aug

We love scientific evidence and expert testimony, especially when they help us make difficult decisions. When it comes to the gay marriage debate, however, science may be hard-put to produce the irrefutable proof that both sides are looking for. The search for an adequate defense of gay marriage has certainly left many psychologists with more questions than answers. A closer look at the years of psychological research presented at the Proposition 8 trial that is making same-sex marriage history in California tells us why.

To a large extent, the psychological defense of gay marriage is two-pronged. One, same-sex families are very similar to opposite-sex families in areas such as quality of the couple’s relationship and well-adjustment of children. A typical psychological study coming from this perspective goes something like this. Two, the difference in legal rights between opposite and same-sex couples takes a psychological toll on the latter. Raise your hand if you were surprised by that one.

The problem here is that the issue of gay marriage is not scientific in nature at all. Let’s take the American Psychological Association’s official position on gay marriage to illustrate. The statement denounces the injustice of unequal rights and the gap in legal, economic and other benefits between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Notice that hard scientific facts are at best buried in political correctness, if not completely absent.

But what of the findings that same-sex relationships are comparable to opposite-sex relationships on a number of levels? There seems to be a disconnect between this body of research and any kind of resolution on the question of gay marriage, largely because the study of sexual minorities is not sophisticated enough (and probably will never be) to get at the core of this debate. It is impossible to conduct a true psychological experiment on these populations because we cannot randomly assign a study participant to the gay group or the straight group. In other words, because the two groups are inherently different from the outset, they are difficult to compare objectively. By the way, these studies only include those folks who are willing to come forward and be studied as sexual minorities. Good luck accounting for the many that are not.

In short, the idea that psychological research will produce facts that make a real difference in the gay marriage debate is naive. Both sides will continue to refer us back to their favorite scientific articles until someone realizes that, at least last time I checked, neither straight nor gay people had love figured out.

Article image via LGBTQ Nation.

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