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Doctors' Orders: The AMA Votes Against DADT, For Gay Marriage

By L. K. Regan

In the wake of disappointment over the vote in Maine, there is some good news for people eager to see gay equality: the American Medical Association voted this week to oppose the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy. And the doctors went farther into the realm of public advocacy, stating unequivocally that bans on gay marriage cause health harm.

The American Medical Association (AMA) is the nation's largest organization of doctors. Its lobbying weight is felt strongly in Washington, where the group has put its push behind issues pertaining to public health, including the new healthcare legislation making its way through congress. This week, the group's meeting in Houston voted to affirm support to healthcare reform; the next day, they voted to lobby to overturn DADT and affirmed that gay marriage bans are a public health issue. Said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a Washington-based advocacy group, "It's highly significant that the AMA as one of this country's leading professional associations has taken a position on both of these issues."

The AMA members made a commitment to lobby for an end to DADT. The connection of DADT to the practice of medicine may not be immediately obvious, but for the AMA members, the policy directly intrudes on the practice of their profession. That's because DADT disrupts the patent-doctor relationship, and encourages patients to lie to their doctors out of fear for their continued military status. Since honesty between doctor and patient is key to successful health care, doctors are eager to see the policy end. As Dr. David Fassler of the University of Vermont told the press, "A law which makes people lie to their physicians is a bad law."

The members did not commit to lobbying for an end to gay marriage bans, but they did make an unequivocal connection between gay marriage, and gay issues generally, and the healthcare debate ongoing in Washington. The link between gay issues and the healthcare debate may not be obvious to the casual observer, but for the AMA members, this was a vote pressed upon them by the growing evidence showing that married couples are healthier than unmarried couples—largely because they are more likely to have health insurance. As AMA board member Dr. Peter Carmel told the press, the uninsured—many of whom are unmarried—are at higher risk for "living sicker and dying younger." Add to that the fact that same-sex couples are also denied other marital benefits—such as tax credits, Social Security survivor benefits, employer spousal retirement benefits—and gay couples as a whole are at risk for worse health.

The AMA is a popular and respected organization. Their lobbying power is established. Though their pressure is unlikely to definitively shift policy on gay issues, their statements on gay health issues bring attention to an under-considered impact of anti-gay policies: their health impact.