Walt Whitman's Vision of Same-Sex Marriage and the Call of MFT's

March 03, 2012 2:18 PM | Anonymous
By Steven Herrmann

In my 2010 book Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul, I examined in-depth the poetry and prose of Walt Whitman. From a contemporary, analytical psychological point of view, I demonstrated how Whitman speaks to age-old sociopolitical and religious questions that are highly relevant to our world today. My book discusses topics including:

1) Whitman's emergence as a world-liberating figure;
2) Three stages of American democracy: the political, economic, and spiritual;
3) The awakening across the globe of the archetype of bi-erotic marriage;
4) Whitman's religious vision; and
5) Spiritual Democracy: the oneness of all religions.
I showed in my book how Whitman tapped into the archetype of Spiritual Democracy, which has indigenous roots in North America, and I attempt to clarify how he tried to universalize it, by announcing a new religious attitude that is nondiscriminatory, feminist, and LGBT affirming. I feel moved to share ideas from my book with East Bay CAMFT members because the notion of marriage equality is pivotal today, particularly with the focus in the world being centered right now on democracy. The breakdown of organized religions and need for new unifying myths to give coherence to changes that are taking place in the world presents us with an urgent psychological task.

Whitman not only tapped into the archetype of same-sex marriage, he may have predicted its emergence in a prospective way as an institution in the American polis and the world; he places images of same-sex marriage at the foundation of his democracy along with the rights of the well-married man and wife; his democratic visions appear to anticipate the movement currently afoot commemorating the political and legal recognition of same-sex marriage, now ratified in seven States across the US (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Washington, plus Washington D. C., and the Coquille, Suquamish Indian Tribe in Oregon). All seven of these States have legalized same-sex marriage. Why CAMFT has lagged behind these States and remained "neutral" by not taking a position on the issue of marriage, when all other national mental heath organizations (the American Psychological Association or APA, the California Psychological Association or CPA, the American Psychiatric Association or APA, the National Association of Social Workers or NASW, and the California Association of Social Workers or CASW) are all in support of marriage equality, is puzzling to me.

My hope is that my workshop will be of particular interest to MFT's today in light of current debates at the State and local chapter levels regarding marriage equality/inequality. In my view it is important to raise not only practical and clinical issues of how to effectively treat LGBT patients, following Proposition 8, but to question where we stand as an organization, and examine the impact of our various positions on clinical treatment and the ethics of our profession. I am not taking a personal position on what CAMFT's position has been or should be, but I do want to question it. In this workshop we will also take a brief look at what is happening globally, to widen our knowledge base.

Workshop Description

My workshop will cover a notion brought forth in my 2010 book Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul, namely the archetype of bi-etoric marriage as a new guiding myth for our times. I am delighted to share this Workshop with EBCAMFT members because I feel the notion of marriage equality is pivotal in our work today, particularly with focus in the world being centered right now on democracy on all three levels, which Whitman identified for us in 1871: 1) political, 2) economic, and 3) spiritual. The breakdown of organized religions in many parts of the world, the reactionary trend towards fundamentalism in Islam and the West including America's religious right, and the need for new unifying myths, to give coherence to political, economic, and spiritual changes taking place across our diverse world, presents us with an urgent psychological task as Marriage and Family Therapist's or MFT's: a call to vocation. We are each called today to take a stand on an important issue of either enlightening our public about the need for same-sex equality for all people, on all three levels--political, economic, and spiritual--or not. Personally, I am in support of same-sex marriage. What the California Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's or CAMFT's position on marriage equality/inequality is or is not is up to CAMFT. I will address the controversial religious dimensions of this sacred domain by presenting a new myth. My workshop will address therefore the controversial religious dimension of the sacred institution of marriage and will present a new myth that provides a foundation in the collectivity to lend support for the movement afoot towards the institutionalization of same-sex marriage. This again is my personal view I will be sharing, so I have no intention of converting anyone to adopt either Whitman's, or my point of view. That is a matter of personal conscience and we each must decide for ourselves, or remain neutral about it. With some of my friends and colleagues at EBCAMFT, I feel a professional duty to speak out about this matter. I hope you will join this important discussion.

A Brief Biography of the Author

Steven B. Herrmann, PhD, MFT received his Bachelor's Degree in "Depth-Psychology and Religion" from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1982, where he worked as a Teaching Assistant for the poet William Everson. He received his Master's and Doctoral Degree in clinical psychology and has over twenty five years of clinical experience working with children, adolescents, adults and couples. He has taught at John F. Kennedy University and has published numerous essays, lectured nationally and internationally, and written two books, including Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul (2010) Published by Eloquent Books: Durham, Connecticut. ISBN: 978-1-60911-699-6. Steven is in private practice with offices in Montclair, Oakland and San Francisco. Steven is especially interested in the interface of analytical psychology, world religion, and American poetry.

Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul (2010) Published by Eloquent Books: Durham, Connecticut. $28.95 ISBN: 978-1-60911-699-6 Available at Amazon.com By Steven B. Herrmann. PhD, MFT (EBCAMFT Member).

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