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.
Marmor and Hooker, however, were “voices in the wilderness,” said Franklin E. Kameny, a scientist and gay activist who was at the forefront of the fight to change the psychiatric orthodoxy on homosexuality.
Marmor’s convictions about the normality of homosexuality emerged against a backdrop of growing activism by gay and lesbian people. A series of national protests by gay activists had culminated in the Stonewall riots in 1969 in New York City. In 1970, activists disrupted the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Assn. in San Francisco, which led in 1971 to the first address by gay people given at a meeting of the eminent group.
In 1972, a gay psychiatrist made a dramatic presentation at the association’s Dallas convention. Wearing a mask and identifying himself only as “Dr. H. Anonymous,” he was joined on the panel by Kameny, longtime lesbian activist Barbara Gittings and two straight psychiatrists: Robert Seidenburg and Marmor, who was then vice president of the association.
The disguised psychiatrist shocked many members of the group who did not realize that policies they had endorsed for 100 years discriminated against some of their own.
That same year, Marmor wrote in an article published in the International Journal of Psychiatry: “I submit that the entire assumption that homosexual behavior per se is ‘unnatural’ or ‘unhealthy’ is a moral judgment and has no basis in fact.”
His views were denounced by classical psychoanalysts, who insisted that homosexuality was deviant behavior rooted in unhealthy family relationships. The issue of whether to remove homosexuality from the diagnostic manual was so contentious that it was placed before the full membership, which in late 1973 adopted the resolution in a split vote. Marmor became association president the following year.
The action set in motion a transformation of attitudes toward homosexuality. The American Psychological Assn. adopted a position similar to that of the American Psychiatric Assn. shortly afterward, and policies opposing anti-gay discrimination were embraced by other major national groups, such as the National Education Assn. and the American Bar Assn.
The elimination of homosexuality from the list of mental disorders was crucial in breaking down other barriers, Kameny said Friday.
“You don’t give rights to and equality to loonies. That was the situation,” he said. Changing the psychiatric view of homosexuals “took away part of the basis for belittling and disparaging us and our efforts as people. It was one of the single most important events in the modern history of the gay movement.” He remembered Marmor as “an effective combatant in our corner of the battle.”
Marmor’s role in eliminating homosexuality from the official lists of psychopathologies is often forgotten, according to Marcus. “If you asked gay people who he is, most would have no idea,” Marcus said in an interview from his home in New York City.
“But gay people all over the country have benefited from his work,” he said. “Many of them have been saved from horrible psychological damage because of his leadership efforts to change the official listing.”
Marmor is survived by his son, Stanford University ophthalmology professor Michael F. Marmor; a granddaughter, Andrea K. Marmor of San Francisco; and a grandson, David J. Marmor of Los Angeles.
Encouraged to collect art by his wife, Katherine, who died in 1999, Marmor lent and contributed many of his artworks to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. His family requests that any memorial donations be sent to those museums.