Gay Marriage, Parenting concerns, and Alternative Lifestyle Relationship Issues
The mental health and scientific communities, and society as a whole, have changed the perception about LGBTQI identity and relationship issues (as well as the challenges inherent in this group), in the last 50 years. Homosexuality was once considered to be a psychological "illness," yet being gay, lesbian or transgender is regularly portrayed in mainstream media and TV in today.
Research about gender and sexual expression/identity (who we see in the mirror and feel in our bodies), sexual activity (forms of sexual pleasuring and intercourse) , and object-choice (who we pair-bond with) has demonstrated that there's more to sexuality and sexual identity than defining oneself as "gay," "straight," or "bisexual." In fact, there is a plethora of additional "sexual expression" labels to include pansexual, asexual, bi-curious, or straight with bi-curious tendencies. Furthermore, some individuals may engage in same-gender sexual behavior yet still identify as heterosexual, and some gay or lesbian people may have sexual relationships with people of the opposite gender but still maintain the identity as "gay" or "lesbian."
There are also those who pair-bond in polyamory, polygyny, polyfidelity, and swinger (couple swapping) relationships. And within the swinger community, there is an added delineation between "full swap" and "soft swap." Being "Queer" encompasses everything not "straight." Also, there is an entire BDSM (Bondage, discipline (or domination), sadism, and masochism http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/BDSM) subculture that can be part of any or all of the above sexual identities or pair-bond affiliations.
It is also important to note that while the terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual, or heterosexual refer to someone’s sexual orientation, transgender is a term related to gender identity and character; how they couple or relate sexually as being the gay, lesbian, or bisexual, within the transgender community refers to object choice – whether the attraction is for the opposite gender, same gender, or both.
An "intersex" person is born with sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, and/or chromosome patterns that do not fit the typical definition of being either male or female. And as a child grows into their own sense of identity, they may decide upon being male or female or neither (asexual). Wikipedia states: "Intersex, in humans and other animals, is a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. Such variation may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex. It is essential to remember that while these above-mentioned groups may share some similarities, they are by no means identical in terms of their mental health issues or needs.
While science, the mental health field, and even social media have come a long way in classifying what denotes "normal" and "pathological" gender identity and sexual expression, (and much of society has become more accepting of alternative sexual expression), there are still biases against other-than-heterosexual monogamy, and people who identify with, or live within these communities, suffer as a result. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness states, "LGBTQ people must confront stigma and prejudice based on their sexual orientation or gender identity while also dealing with the societal bias against mental health conditions. Some people report having to hide their sexual orientation from those in the mental health system for fear of being ridiculed or rejected. Some hide their mental health conditions from their LGBTQ friends." http://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ. Additionally, LGBTQI individuals must also deal with the societal and corporate bias and fear of being ridiculed, rejected or even "outed," especially if they have a high-profile job within a conservative company or a government agency – originations that have previously frowned upon and been hostile toward the LGBTQI communities.
Living in secrecy can eat away at the core of one's being and cause numerous mental health problems that can last a lifetime. The fear of coming out and/or being discriminated against because of sexual orientation and gender identity expression that does not fit the heterosexual norm, can lead to depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, substance abuse, and even thoughts of suicide. This is especially true for bisexual or bi-curious individuals who are often scorned by gay and lesbian groups for being unable or unwilling to make a "choice." This is also true for the young LGBTQI teen who has been raised in a very religious or conservative home; "coming out" is likened to heresy and sometimes the child is shunned forever.
With the myriad of stressors that the these groups face, it makes sense then that current research has found that the LGBTQI community is likely to be at higher risk for emotional problems and as much as two-and-one-half to three times more likely than their heterosexual male and female counterparts to have had a mental health disorder in their lifetime http://www2.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Multicultural_Support1/Fact_Sheets1/GLBT_Mental_Health_07.pdf.
As we navigate through life, we all make choices about intimate relationships and pair-bonding whether they are monogamous by choice, or some other constellation of relationship interactions. For the relationship(s) to be healthy, all aspects of pair-bonding and sexual activity should be SAFE, SANE (as defined by the couple or group) and CONSENSUAL. Anything other than these basic guidelines would be considered abuse.
Although gay marriage was not legal until recent times, many gay and lesbian couples decided to have "Commitment Ceremonies" and exchange rings to commemorate and publically signal their life-time bond of fidelity. Some decided upon monogamy, while others chose to include others in their sexual partnering. And while there is a certain safety that is implied by making the commitment to marry, this dynamic also creates a host of other relationship expectations and challenges that were not present before the public declaration of marriage was made.
Currently, there are 15 Nations and 37 States that have legalized gay marriage. They include by:
COURT DECISION: Alabama* (Feb. 9, 2015), Alaska (Oct. 17, 2014), Arizona (Oct. 17, 2014), California (June 28, 2013), Colorado (Oct. 7, 2014), Connecticut (Nov. 12, 2008), Florida (Jan. 6, 2015), Idaho (Oct. 13, 2014), Indiana (Oct. 6, 2014), Iowa (Apr. 24, 2009), Kansas (Nov. 12, 2014), Massachusetts (May 17, 2004), Montana (Nov. 19, 2014), Nevada (Oct. 9, 2014), New Jersey (Oct. 21, 2013), New Mexico (Dec. 19, 2013), North Carolina (Oct. 10, 2014), Oklahoma (Oct. 6, 2014), Oregon (May 19, 2014), Pennsylvania (May 20, 2014), South Carolina (Nov. 20, 2014), Utah (Oct. 6, 2014), Virginia (Oct. 6, 2014), West Virginia (Oct. 9, 2014), Wisconsin (Oct. 6, 2014), Wyoming (Oct. 21, 2014)
STATE LEGISLATURE: Delaware (July 1, 2013), Hawaii (Dec. 2, 2013), Illinois (June 1, 2014), Minnesota (Aug. 1, 2013), New Hampshire (Jan. 1, 2010), New York (July 24, 2011), Rhode Island (Aug. 1, 2013), Vermont (Sep. 1, 2009)
POPULAR VOTE: Maine (Dec. 29, 2012), Maryland (Jan. 1, 2013), Washington (Dec. 9, 2012). (Source http://gaymarriage.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004857). Some of the remaining States are involved in the appellate process and will likely overturn the prohibited and previously denied right to gay marriage decisions.
With the advent of legalized gay marriage, there are a host of other issues that came to the forefront regarding relationship unions within the LGBTQI communities as was mentioned above. While the "right" to be legally married may have been a boon for those who waited for this opportunity for decades, with this privilege also comes a host of legal issues pertaining to State laws that govern property distribution and child custody. In fact, both the heterosexual and gay community will say the same thing; once the ring goes on the finger EVERYTHING changes.
Issues that may have been previously negotiated in an amicable way become a heated battle; jealously and possessiveness that may not have present (or a problem) before marriage, become a toxic force that threatens to destroy the loving feelings that brought the couple together in the first place. Whatever the case may be, there is usually great cost to the couple emotionally and financially. Furthermore, there is additional strain on the relationship if children are involved. While mediation or "coaching" may assist couples in working through these sometimes challenging struggles, more intensive individual psychotherapy or couple's therapy may be necessary to patch the wounds and repair the damage.
What is true about ALL relationships is that concentrating on the positive, rather than focusing on the negative, is more conducive to maintaining a happy healthy long-term relationship/marriage. The Couple's Affirmation Book: Keeping Your Relationship Positive (2015) (found at www.drkaren.com) offers a simple roadmap to help you achieve this goal.
It is important for the therapist to be mindful of, and pay attention to, the inherent differences between heterosexual and same-gender marriages. To this end, make sure you find a therapist who is sensitive to these variances when you seek professional help. If your relationship is troubled and you want to make improvements, or determine whether it is time to move on, feel free to schedule an appointment (954-779-2855) to discuss your options.
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