California Same-Sex Couples Eagerly Awaiting Supreme Court Ruling

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San Francisco psychotherapist Michael Halyard, MFT explains how LGBT people were hurt by Prop 8 passing--but are now hopeful that the amendment will be overturned by the United States Supreme Court. A number of studies demonstrate what many clinicians already know--that marriage denial causes mental health problems for same-sex couples and their families.

Proposition 8 has been demoralizing for California's gay men and lesbians. It’s one thing to never have a right and fight for it, but it’s devastating to win a right, and then have it taken away by a slim majority of voters

This week’s oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court signals the beginning of the end to challenges to Proposition 8.

Proposition 8 is a voter-approved constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California in 2008. Having been declared unconstitutional by lower courts, Prop 8 supporters appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is also considering a constitutional challenge to the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which defines marriage for federal purposes as heterosexual only.

California’s road towards marriage equality has had many twists and turns. On February 12, 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. By the time the California Supreme Court ordered San Francisco to stop issuing licenses about a month later 4000 same-sex couples were married, but the marriages were ultimately voided by the court.

Cases challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage soon followed and eventually reached the California Supreme Court. The California Supreme Court overturned the ban on May, 2008, and a month later for the first time in history same-sex marriage was legal in California. Proposition 8--a voter approved state constitutional amendment-- ended same-sex marriage less than five months later in November 2008 but the 18,000 marriages that took place all over the state remain intact. The State Supreme Court considered a number of challenges to the amendment in March 2009, but in the end upheld it.

Having exhausted all options in state court, in May 2009, marriage equality supporters challenged Proposition 8 in Federal Court. After being ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, it was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Proposition 8 proponents and is now being heard in the U.S. Supreme Court.

"California's gays and lesbians are hopeful that both will be ruled unconstitutional, and are eagerly awaiting the rulings expected at the end of June,” says San Francisco therapist Michael Halyard.

Halyard is a San Francisco therapist and can be found on the websites and

“Proposition 8 has been demoralizing for California's gay men and lesbians. It’s one thing to never have a right and fight for it, but it’s devastating to win a right, and then have it taken away by a slim majority of voters,” adds Halyard.

“Many of my gay and lesbian clients were distraught when Prop 8 passed--exacerbating any depression and anxiety that already existed. 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 gay people to second class citizens," explains Halyard.

Studies show what Halyard has seen in his practice: Proposition 8 has been traumatic for gay men and lesbians and bans on same-sex marriage have a traumatic psychological effect and increase the risk for depression and isolation.

A comprehensive literature review demonstrated that when denied the right to marry, gay men and lesbians experience increased stress-related disorders, low self-esteem, guilt and shame, substance abuse, and depression. The study also outlined how marriage gives couples more social and emotional support than couples who are not married and marriage reduces the rates of psychological disorders.

One study points to discrimination as being responsible for the mental health discrepancies between LGBT persons and heterosexuals. Another study demonstrated that gay men and lesbians living in states that passed initiatives banning same-sex marriage have higher rates of depression and anxiety. And finally another study demonstrates that being legally married provides additional protection against depression when confronting homophobia and stress related to aging.

When same-sex relationships are recognized as equal under the law, the mental health of gay men and lesbians improves! For example, one study demonstrated that gay men’s mental health care and medical visits declined after legalizing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Marriage denial has real effects for people in the real world. Marriage allows the ability to make medical decisions for one’s partner and even hospital visitations. During the height of the AIDS crisis, thousands of gay men died alone because their partners didn’t have hospital visitation rights and the family didn’t accept the couple’s relationship. Marriage allows people to be able to get health insurance through their partner’s plans. Marriage allows military spouses to get survivors benefits and social security. Marriage also gives couples tax benefits and inheritance rights.

”The bottom line is Prop 8 and DOMA are inherently unfair, and marriage inequality destabilizes our families and increases mental health problems in our community. Marriage has the power to transform LGBT individuals, couples and families. In California, there are over 40,000 children being raised in same-sex households, and marriage strengthens these families,” adds Halyard.

A lot has changed since Proposition 8 passed: same-sex marriage is now legal in several states and the approval rating for same-sex marriage is well past the halfway point of 50% both in California and nationwide.

Halyard says he’s optimistic both will be overturned, and is looking forward to one day having marriage equality in all 50 states and an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on the federal level.

81% of Americans under the age of 30 support marriage equality…there’s only one way where this will go in a few years,” argues Halyard.


Michael Halyard, MS, MFT is a San Francisco Marriage and Family Therapist and specializes in LGBT issues, depression, anxiety, addictions and couples counseling in his private practice. He can be found on the websites and

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