On same-sex marriage, CAMFT stumbles along

In response to the controversy over its steadfast and solitary refusal to even make a statement about same-sex marriage, CAMFT dedicated its May/June issue of its magazine, The Therapist, to discussion of the topic. In the process they got some things right, and others wrong. Credit, and blame, where due:

Right: On social issues, CAMFT has never stood for anything. In his column, board president Patrick Healy reminds readers that CAMFT has never taken a stand on any social issue. When called upon by groups of members to oppose the Vietnam War, stand up for women’s rights, or move a conference from a hotel where labor abuses were taking place, CAMFT has a long history of inaction. Duly noted, and not exactly a badge of honor.

Wrong: If CAMFT takes a stand on gay marriage, it must take a stand on everything. As Healy puts it, CAMFT is not a social justice organization. He goes on with lazy “slippery slope” rhetoric: “If CAMFT ever gets into social justice work, I’d like to ask it to take up the charge” on a variety of issues, Healy says. But CAMFT is hardly locked in a quagmire if it takes on the topic; most mental health organizations have clear policies for determining what social issues are worthy of their attention, and have been able to take a stand on gay marriage (and limited numbers of other issues) without falling off of some social-justice cliff and losing sight of their purpose.

Right: CAMFT does not want to risk alienating a portion of their membership. I genuinely credit Healy for being straightforward in saying so: “Taking a stand would alienate a percentage of CAMFT members.” The logic, of course, is easy to poke holes through: failing to take a stand alienates a portion of CAMFT members. The organization is making an active choice in whom it chooses to alienate.

Wrong: The “pro” and “con” arguments presented in the magazine are equally valid and deserve equal space. The “Professional Exchange” section consists of one batch of articles supporting same-sex marriage, and another opposing it, on very different grounds. The “pro” articles are mostly copied from academic journals, and show just how clear the scientific evidence is: same-sex parents raise their children just as effectively as heterosexual parents, and same-sex couples and their children suffer due to marriage discrimination. The “con” articles are largely made up of arguments that are inaccurate or irrelevant (much more on that to come in a separate post).

While I am solidly on the pro-gay-marriage side, I do believe there is a real, cogent argument to be made against same-sex marriage based on how marriage intertwines with religious principles. I also believe that religious therapists have a genuine struggle to balance religious belief with appropriate care, and that all mental health professions need to find ways to affirm same-sex couples without discriminating against clients or therapists based on religion. This section is largely not that kind of discussion, though, which is disappointing. If anything, it seems to be a disservice and an insult to those who would have valuable and intelligent points to make in opposing same-sex marriage.

Wrong (maybe): This collection of articles will settle the angry mob. In spite of the headline “Tackling the Issues of Same-Sex Marriage” on the magazine’s cover, presentation of a variety of viewpoints while disavowing all of them does not constitute “tackling” of anything. If CAMFT really wanted to “tackle” the issues, it would appoint a committee to examine the research and solicit member comments, and then make a policy recommendation (that the full board would hopefully endorse). This selection of articles moves no closer to such a resolution. I find it hard to believe that those therapists who have been dissatisfied with CAMFT up to now will find themselves appeased.

More to come on this topic.

A quick point of clarification, for those who are unfamiliar: CAMFT is the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. It is not in any way affiliated with AAMFT, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, which has a California Division: AAMFT-CA.