In a country deeply divided into red states and blue states, President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage will no doubt become a political hot potato. In the meantime, the psychological and emotional impact of politics on the actual lives of families will get drowned out in the rhetoric of opposing sides.
As psychotherapists working with couples and families from diverse backgrounds, we know first hand how differences about things like religion, politics, values and behaviors can either damage or strengthen relationships. Which way it goes depends on several crucial variables.
First, can family members listen with an open mind to the experiences of loved ones even when they can’t agree? Second, can they develop empathy for the pain of another? Third, are the individuals open to new information and education?
The underlying enemy that we confront when we work with families and communities about embracing differences is FEAR. The arguments that are offered against gay marriage revolve around fear—fear that the institution of marriage will be undermined by a change in laws, fear that children will be harmed if brought up by gay parents, fear that the whole society will soon go to hell in a hand basket.
One argument against gay marriage stems from false assumptions about the effects of gay parenting on children. Numerous studies have shown that children from gay couples do just as well as kids from heterosexual couples on the dimensions of self-esteem, gender identity, and emotional problems.
Research has also helped us to put aside some other fears about this issue. Children raised by gay parents are not more likely to be gay than kids with heterosexual parents. They are not more likely to be sexually abused.
In fact, the only downside to growing up with gay parents is the fact that the children are far more likely to be teased or bullied by their peers for having two moms or two dads. If gay marriage becomes legal and the culture becomes more able to embrace families of all types, this current negative effect on kids should only get better.
From a religious and scientific perspective, there is another underlying question that should be reflected in this debate. Is homosexuality really a choice? There is still a lot of fear and misinformation about this issue as well. For a thoroughly entertaining recap of the research in this area, see the YouTube clip.
As scientific evidence continues to mount about the fact that homosexuality is not really a choice, we might ask ourselves the following: If Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, or any of our religious “founding fathers” were alive today, would they be judgmental or non-accepting of people? Or would they be fighting to grant everyone, regardless of differences, the same rights and privileges as the majority group? What if these same Supreme Beings could serve on our Supreme Court?
Despite the passages in translations of religious texts that have been interpreted as anti-homosexual, there is an indisputable and overarching principle that permeates all of the world’s major religions: the principles of love and acceptance. Jesus, for one, had to be one of the most loving and tolerant people to ever walk this earth. He loved prostitutes and oppressors just as he loved his nearest followers. He taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
In the research for our book about healthy families, we discovered that various forms of the Golden Rule are important tenets of over twenty world religions. In Christianity the creed is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Buddhism teaches, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Judaism teaches, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.” And in Islam, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”
Our secret wish is that the Golden Rule be applied as the highest law of the land, – the measure by which each citizen could approach important life issues. Perhaps then, and only then, will it be clear how to weigh in on this issue of gay marriage.
“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.” -Margaret Mead
Wedding cake couple photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 11 May 2012