Prop 8 Depression Turns to Hope for California Gays and Lesbians

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San Francisco psychotherapist Michael Halyard, MFT explains how gay people were traumatized by Prop 8 passing, but gays are now hopeful that the measure will be overturned by the California Supreme Court. At least one study confirms what Halyard sees in his practice--that marriage denial causes mental health problems for gays and same-sex couples. Political activism is one way people are coping since Prop 8 passed last November.

I'm sure that many people who voted for 8 are unaware of the profound effect it had on real people--not only on the couples themselves, but on their families as well. Gay men and lesbians have been traumatized by this hateful measure. Children of same-sex parents now have unmarried parents, and the children are hurting as well, says Halyard.

Proposition 8 has been devastating for California's gay men and lesbians, but now there's hope that the state Supreme Court's proceedings will lead to a restoration of marital rights for same-sex couples.

"The decision can't come soon enough for California's gays and lesbians," says San Francisco Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) Michael Halyard. Halyard is a psychotherapist who specializes in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) mental health issues in his private practice. He also runs the website SFtherapy.com.

The California Supreme Court is now hearing arguments over the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage last November.

"The post-Prop 8 time has been difficult for all lesbian and gay people, not just ones who got married," says Halyard. "For the 18,000 couples who got married, it's been especially difficult because of the possibility that the court could annul their marriages."

"Most of my gay clients felt hurt and saddened by the passage of Proposition 8, exacerbating any depression and anxiety that already existed. My gay clients who got married are anxious, wondering what is going to happen to their marriages, causing additional stress in their relationships. Clients who didn't get married are wondering when they'll get the chance to marry again. Even my gay clients who didn't ever intend on getting married were upset by this ruling, as it took away the option to get married and relegated us to second class citizens."

At least one study has shown what Halyard is seeing in his practice: that bans on same-sex marriage have a traumatic psychological effect on gay men and lesbians and increase the risk for depression and isolation. Marriage inequality also intensifies gay people's sense of shame and sends the message that same-sex relationships aren't okay.

Halyard says the loss of marital rights under Prop 8 felt like a rejection from the greater community--a rejection which is all too familiar. "Many if not most queer folks were teased when we were kids, and were rejected by our family, church, and community when we came out. And then we came into adulthood, we become beautiful gay swans with a positive sense of self and a newfound freedom to be ourselves. Here we often partner up and have a family. And these poor little queer kids--now are now grown up--finally got our full civil rights in California, only to lose them a few months later. Prop 8 has retraumatized gay folks in profound ways by reminding us that we don't measure up in society's point of view."

Halyard says not since Proposition 187 has a group of people felt so singled out and under siege by their fellow Californians. Similar feelings of rejection, fear, and misunderstanding --and the weight of law creation via mob mentality--are now this time directed at gay people. Prop 187 was later thrown out by the courts and Halyard hopes Prop 8 has a similar fate.

"I'm sure that many people who voted for 8 are unaware of the profound effect it had on real people--not only on the couples themselves, but on their families as well. Gay men and lesbians have been traumatized by this hateful measure. Children of same-sex parents now have unmarried parents, and the children are hurting as well, says Halyard."

Halyard says although the LGBT community has been going in and out of the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, it's easy to get stuck in anger. "Anger is not healthy if you just sit at home and do nothing with it. If you direct that anger in productive ways--like writing letters to the editor, going to the protests and vigils, and participating in the boycotts--it's not only healthy, it's good for the movement. Websites like Join the Impact, Nonhaters, and Californians Against Hate have been great because they give us a chance to take action," says Halyard.

Halyard says he's been advising clients to stay hopeful. "This may go either way in court, but we will eventually have marriage equality. For the gay rights movement as a whole--which had become complacent in recent years--Prop 8 is the wakeup call we needed in is arguably a net positive. Its passage has awakened a sleeping gay giant--one which won't sleep again until we have full marriage equality in all 50 states and passage of an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on the federal level. There is queer solidarity that has never been seen before all across the nation and around the globe."

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Michael Halyard, MFT
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