As a heterosexual man living in the United States, I do not have the personal experience of being oppressed by others for who I am or denied certain rights as an American. But as a psychotherapist and mental health clinician for the past 20 years, I have been privy to the agonizing struggles and the prolonged indignities the gay population in this country have been faced with. Depression, anxiety, chronic fear, self-loathing, and suicide are just a few of the negative affects people suffer as a result of feeling debased for who they are. The results of living with these long-lasting destructive effects creates not only an emotional template of low self-esteem and insecurity that can adversely impact the mental well-being of our people, but future generations too.
The Supreme Court's ruling on Tuesday to lift Prop 8 in California means that now same-sex marriages can get all federal benefits that heterosexual marriages can. But it also means that we got a needed boost in the future emotional prosperity for all Americans. Yes, all of us. We stood proud this week and de-pathologized ourselves. A healthy society is collectively healthy. We must ALL feel good about who we are.
When people are steadily disgraced and denied rights because of their beliefs or because of who they are (assuming we are not talking about immoral people who believe that harming or killing others is okay, etc.), over time, this may wear down their affiliation as a member of the human race. Consequently, they may begin to feel ashamed of themselves. They may begin to feel un-entitled to have personal dreams and goals. They may become cynical about their future and live in a constant state of hopelessness. This type of public denunciation can lead to such deep depression that people become despairing and sometimes suicidal. Humans need to feel like they belong. It is as natural as needing oxygen to breathe. Psychological pride cannot be understated. We all require it.
Therefore, it is the larger context picture that we all need to look at. Pulling the camera back from the assumed narrow view of the current social landscape to a wider view of this issue may help us take note of the many other issues it contributes to. Like the chronic mental health epidemic this discrimination creates, the panorama allows us to consider the long-term critical implications. Hence, regardless of how we feel about gays and lesbians and/or gay marriage itself, we must think about the culture as a whole. A society that has many of its members feeling marginalized and suffering from a dispirited pessimism about the future is not a healthy society. Think about it.
But as we saw this week, tolerance (what a concept!) and perhaps a future trend of conservative renewal around this issue is finally taking place. And perhaps it's even time for many traditional thinkers to contemplate an extreme makeover -- the kind of ethical makeover that contemplates what's outside the sacred box of outmoded convention. Wouldn't that make a titillating reality show?
In the years to come, perhaps the remaining states will get off the stigma-wagon and choose progress and also do the right thing. In the immortal words of Mr. Spock from the Star Trek series: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one."
I was moved by The Dish editor Andrew Sullivan's stirring words on CNN last night. He declared that after Tuesday's ruling against Prop 8, gays and lesbians may begin to heal some of their wounds and see themselves as equal citizens instead of sub-human citizens.
Lastly (I discussed this point in one of my previous blogs, so pardon the repetition), let us also not forget that fewer than 100 years ago, women were not allowed to vote in the United States. Don't we all agree in hindsight that denying a human being such a right was outrageous? Well, perhaps we are finally sparing ourselves the retrospective guilt today, by opening our eyes to what is happening in our society regarding same-sex marriage.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.