Press Statement on Homosexuality on 1 December 2005
On 1 December 2005, the Constitutional Court made a judgement legalising same-sex marriages. This includes the right to adopt children for gay and lesbian couples. The only restriction recognised by the Court was that marriage officers could refuse to marry homosexual couples if it was against their conscience. South Africa is now the first African nation to parallel heterosexual and homosexual relationships in a legal context. Our constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination of sexual and other minorities.
While the ruling political party, opposition party and many churches responded favourably to the ruling, population surveys have documented that most South Africans are uncomfortable with homosexuality. Traditional leaders, such as Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, have repeatedly labelled homosexuality as "un-African". A survey conducted by the 'Daily News' in Durban found that most people were strongly against same-sex unions.
South Africa is the first African nation endorsing gay and lesbian marriages at a time when many other African states - notably in East and Southern Africa - are enacting laws prohibiting same-sex unions.
So far, only Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and few US states give equal marriage rights to same sex couples, while a great number of European countries recognise homosexual unions.
The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) notes this ruling and strongly supports it. We feel that we need to clarify our position on this issue in the face of public debate. The public may be aware that in the past, psychiatry has judged homosexual unions as abnormal. Hence, gay and lesbian individuals in past generations suffered discrimination at the hands of psychiatrists.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders (DSM-II). The public statement read:
Whereas homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities, therefore, be it resolved that the American Psychiatric Association deplores all public and private discrimination against homosexual's
In 1992, the World Health Organization accepted the APA's view and removed the diagnosis of homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10).
Several prejudices exist concerning homosexuality. One of these is that gay couples cannot form lasting, deep emotional attachments and commitments.
However, a 1991 review of the literature on gay and lesbian couples concluded that research has shown that most lesbians and gay men want intimate relationships and are successful in creating them. A major study of heterosexual and gay couples in the United States concluded in the early l980s that couplehood, either as a reality or an aspiration, is as strong among gay people as it is among heterosexuals. Empirical studies have found that between 40% and 70% of gay men and between 60% and 80% of lesbians are involved in steady relationships at a given time.
Same sex couples should not be deprived of legal marriage as this institution can provide important mental health benefits, both to members of same sex couples and to the wider community. The majority of lesbians and gay men report that they are in a committed relationship. Wedding ceremonies, though not legally sanctioned, are common. Nevertheless, the couples lack the same legal rights and responsibilities as those accorded to heterosexual married couples.
Although there has not yet been sufficient research into the psychological harm caused by the lack of legal marriage, research on heterosexual couples identifies marital disruption as a precursor for poor mental health.
Another prejudice is that same sex couples are bad parents to their children, biological or adopted. However, scientific research indicates that gay parents are little different from heterosexual parents. Several studies have evaluated the parenting philosophies and skills of gay men and have concluded that gay fathers are similar to (heterosexual) fathers in their overall parenting abilities and skills. Such research suggests that the gay fathers are at least equal to heterosexual fathers in the quality of their parenting. Indeed, two researchers reviewing the literature in this area concluded: It is evident . . . that both lesbians and gay men who are parents are as sufficient in the roles as heterosexuals, and that the home life they provide is at least of equal quality. Some researchers have found that gay fathers make greater efforts to create a stable home environment and positive relationship with their children than heterosexual fathers do.
Another commonly held prejudice is that same sex parents will adversely influence the gender identity of their children. Research into three aspects of sexual identity: gender identity; gender role; and sexual orientation; consistently demonstrates no differences between children of gay or lesbian parents and children of heterosexual parents. Research involving children of gay fathers indicates that these children develop gender role identifications (self-identification as male or female) that are consistent with their biological sex. Similarly, comparisons of children raised by lesbian and heterosexual mothers found no appreciable differences. Most children in both groups identified with their biological sex and indicated satisfaction with their gender.
The more extensive research on children being raised by lesbian parents provides consistent evidence that the sexual orientation of parents is not a predictive variable in the psychological and social development of children. When single-parent households were studied, children raised by lesbian mothers and by heterosexual mothers had no psychological differences.
Hence SASOP believes the Constitutional Court's ruling is a positive move that which is in accordance with all the scientific literature supporting same sex couples and parenting.