The American Psychological Association has released a groundbreaking report disparaging religious efforts to "cure" homosexual orientation, an implied rebuke to religions that teach against homosexuality.
Called "Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation," the 138-page document is the organization's strongest criticism to date on religious groups that claim homosexual acts are sinful and that gay tendencies can be cured.
"There is a growing body of evidence that sexual stigma, manifested as prejudice or discrimination directed at non-heterosexual orientations and identities, is a major source of stress for sexual minorities," the report began.
"Moral and religious values in North America and Europe [that over centuries] provided the initial rationale for criminalization, discrimination and prejudice against same-sex behaviors," said the report, which was two years in the making and included references to 83 studies.
The report's findings were approved by a 125-4 vote this week by the APA's governing council in advance of its annual meeting this weekend in Toronto.
It touched on an issue that has long consumed public figures in the religious world, ranging from former Colorado megachurch pastor Ted Haggard, who in November 2006 lost his job after he admitted to soliciting sex from a male prostitute, to New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the world's first openly gay bishop, who tried changing his orientation in his 20s.
The report named members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews as examples of devout people battling same-sex attractions. Most of the people studied were well-educated white men who had tried psychotherapy, support groups and other religious methods in their efforts to change their sexuality.
The paper focused on such sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), also known as reparative therapy.
"Some individuals perceived they had benefited from SOCE," the report said, and believed "that it helped them live in a manner consistent with their faith."
But "individuals who failed to change sexual orientation, while believing they should have changed with such efforts, described their experiences as a significant cause of emotional and spiritual distress and negative self-image," it added.
Moreover, "there is no research" showing that providing SOCE to children and adolescents "has an impact on adult sexual orientation," the report said.
The report was compiled by a six-member task force that admitted to a built-in bias that "same-sex sexual attractions, behavior and orientations per se are normal and positive variants of human sexuality and are not indicators of either mental or developmental disorders."
The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) said the task force was stacked with gay or gay-friendly activists who would naturally conclude that reparative therapy does not work.
"No APA member who offers reorientation therapy was allowed to join the task force," said David Pruden, NARTH vice president. "In fact, one can make the case that every member of the task force can be classified as an activist. They selected and interpreted studies that fit within their innate and immutable view."
Task force Chairwoman Judith Glassgold, a New Jersey psychologist, is on the board of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychology, NARTH said, and was president of Division 44, APA's gay caucus, in 2003-2004. Committee member Jack Drescher is a public gay activist. Another committee member, Roger Worthington, a chief diversity officer with the University of Missouri/Columbia, has been cited by gay groups for his advocacy on their behalf.
Clinton Anderson, an APA spokesman, did not deny NARTH's charges.
"I think that we had a very open process where we put out a call for nominations," he said. "We evaluated the nominees based on their qualifications. I don't feel we have any apologies to make for how we appointed that task force."
When asked whether the APA was recommending gay people change churches instead of sexual practices, "much of the approach to this issue has been unbalanced in making religion more of an important issue in peoples' lives than their sexual orientation," he said. "From a scientific perspective, both are important. We know people do change religion in their lives and that option is open if it serves their best wellbeing."
Regent University psychologist Mark Yarhouse disagreed, saying it is "implausible" to expect people to change their church or religion.
He and Stanton Jones of Wheaton College near Chicago are releasing their own report Friday at the APA meeting showing how more than half of 61 participants in programs affiliated with the ex-gay group Exodus International either became heterosexual or managed to embrace celibacy.
"Our data suggests a percentage of people showed a statistically significant and meaningful change in their same-sex attractions," Mr. Yarhouse said.
He called the APA report "evenhanded," adding that it at least addressed religious concerns.
Exodus International President Alan Chambers, who describes himself as a married man who "overcame unwanted same-sex attraction," spoke similarly, calling the report "a positive step."
"Simply respecting someone's faith is a huge leap in the right direction," Mr. Chambers told the Associated Press. "But I'd go further. Don't deny the possibility that someone's feelings might change."
The Rev. Mario Bergner, a former gay activist and now an Episcopal priest operating the Boston-based Redeemed Lives ministry for people with "unwanted same-sex attractions," said the report ignored groundbreaking work on the topic by Princeton University professor Jeffrey Satinover and Columbia University professor Robert Spitzer.
In 2003, Mr. Spitzer announced his research showed homosexuals could change their orientation.
"Back in 1973 when the APA removed homosexuality from its list of disorders that require treatment in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Dr. Spitzer was one of the authoritative voices pushing for its removal," Mr. Bergner said. "Second, 30 years later, he changed his mind after meeting many people like me, who have come out of homosexuality and found freedom and satisfaction in heterosexual marriage."