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Obituaries

Judd Marmor, 93; Helped End Classification of Gays as Ill

December 20, 2003|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Dr. Judd Marmor, whose criticism of the belief that homosexuality was a mental disorder made him an important ally in the gay struggle to force American psychiatry to change its views, died Tuesday at UCLA Medical Center after a short illness. He was 93.

Marmor, a longtime resident of Los Angeles who taught for many years at UCLA and USC, played a prominent role in the successful 1973 campaign to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the authoritative compendium of mental illnesses maintained by the American Psychiatric Assn.

The decision, highly controversial at the time, was seen later as a landmark in the history of the gay and lesbian rights movement, which considered the illness theory of homosexuality the major stumbling block in the modern struggle for gay rights.

Marmor, as one of a handful of prominent, heterosexual psychiatrists who joined gay activists in challenging the theory, was "one of the foreparents of the movement," Ronni Sanlo, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center at UCLA, said in an interview this week.

"It couldn't have happened without that change in the APA," she said.

Marmor's death came a day after the 30th anniversary of the American Psychiatric Assn.'s vote to "depathologize" homosexuality, which took place Dec. 15, 1973.

Widely respected as an analyst and scholar, he published more than 350 papers and wrote or edited six books, including the classic text "Modern Psychoanalysis," originally published in 1968.

He also was known for his research on why therapy works, which showed that factors such as trust and empathy had more to do with successful outcomes in psychotherapy than any particular theoretical approach, such as Freudian or Jungian analysis.

In later years, he was an advocate of group and family therapy and spoke of the benefits of short-term treatment versus lifelong analysis.

An avid tennis player into his 90s who saw patients until just before his death, Marmor saw his influence reach into the ranks of daily newspaper readers as a longtime advisor to Abigail Van Buren, who wrote the "Dear Abby" column and was one of the first national figures to support gay rights. He later advised her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, when she took over the enterprise in the late 1980s.

"If Mom had a question about homosexuality or other behavior, she would ask him," Phillips said Friday. "You could call Judd up and he would answer your questions very sweetly and very thoroughly."

Marmor was born in 1910 in London, the son of a Yiddish scholar. He grew up in Chicago and later moved to New York. With odd jobs and debating scholarships, he supported himself through Columbia University.

He began a psychiatric practice in New York after earning his medical degree from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1933.

In 1946, after serving in the Navy during World War II, he moved to Los Angeles, where psychoanalysis was coming into vogue, and gained prominence as an analyst to Hollywood celebrities.

He served as director of the psychiatry division at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center from 1965 to 1972, then launched an academic career at USC, where he was the Franz Alexander Professor of Psychiatry from 1972 to 1980. From 1980 to 1985, he was adjunct professor of psychiatry at UCLA.

Marmor had begun to treat homosexual patients who wanted to change their sexual orientation in the 1940s. Like most of his colleagues, he believed that psychoanalysis could help them change. But, as he told historian Eric Marcus in the book "Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990," "I wasn't too successful."

What eventually changed Marmor's views were his clinical experiences with gay patients and later his social interactions with closeted gays who had successful careers. He gradually reached the conclusion that "psychoanalysts didn't know enough gay people outside the treatment community who were happy with their lives, who were satisfied and well-adjusted," he told Marcus.

Marmor said: "If we made our judgments about the mental health of heterosexuals only from the patients we saw in our office, we'd have to assume that all heterosexuals were mentally disturbed."

Marmor also was influenced by the groundbreaking research of Evelyn Hooker, a UCLA psychologist who in 1957 published the first empirical study to challenge the view of homosexuality as an illness. In her research, she found no measurable psychological difference between heterosexual and homosexual men.

Her study buttressed Marmor's clinical observations that homosexuality was not pathological. He asked Hooker to write a chapter for his first book on homosexuality, "Sexual Inversion," published in 1965. She in turn recruited him for a task force on homosexuality sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health in 1969, and they often lectured together to dispel the notion that homosexuality was a sickness.

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