Judd Marmor

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 19 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:466

Psychiatrist who changed the view of homosexuality as a mental disorder

When Judd Marmor's patients didn't fit the textbook theory that homosexuality was an illness, he thought perhaps the theory was wrong.

In 1973, as a prominent and heterosexual psychiatrist, he became a leader in the struggle that led to the removal of the definition of homosexuality as an illness from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, changing a position it had held for nearly a century. The following year he was elected president of the association, one of many posts he held during a long career.

Dr Marcia Goin, clinical professor of psychiatry at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and current president of the American Psychiatric Association, was a student, colleague, and friend of Marmor. She recalls, “What was really, really important with Judd was his openness to new things. Freud was very open; he listened to patients and if it didn't fit, he dismissed the theory. Judd kept his mind open to his 93rd year.” She said, “He was a key figure in depathologising homosexuality. It grew out of his experience listening to patients.”

The playwright Arthur Laurents, author of West Side Story, was one of the gay men who consulted Dr Marmor, according to the online newspaper Gay Today, which reported the following tale from The Gay Metropolis: 1940-1996 by Charles Kaiser. Laurents remembered that Marmor had greeted him with the usual question, “Why are you here?” “I'm afraid I'm homosexual,” Laurents replied. “So?” “What do you mean, ‘So?’ You know it's dirty and disgusting,” said Laurents. “I don't know anything about it,” said Marmor. Then Marmor is reported to have said something that would change Laurents's life forever: “All I know is that whoever or whatever you are, if you lead your life with pride and dignity, that's all that matters.”

Dr Robert Galatzer-Levy, lecturer at the University of Chicago and co-author of The Course of Gay and Lesbian Lives, said, “Marmor was a political liberal interested in civil rights. He was absolutely aware of the use of psychiatry to oppress people—in the US and Britain and of course in Russia.” He wrote: “If you read material written in the 1950s and 60s, authors found same-sex sexuality disgusting and wanted to wipe it out… Marmor thought it was social control, not treatment of disease.”

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After furious discussions and demonstrations and accusations that the psychiatric association was caving in to gay activists, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a diagnosis from its influential manual. The action was a decisive moment for the gay and lesbian rights movement.

Dr Sherwyn Woods, a close friend and emeritus professor of psychiatry and behavioural science at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, said that Marmor “helped to bring psychoanalysis into the late 20th century.” He added, “As a person, he was an intellectual in the best sense of the word. He had a good sense of humour, an ever-inquiring mind, and the courage to challenge whomever or whatever he thought to be wrong or outdated…. His entire professional career was characterised by an insistence that theory must never be blindly applied to a patient.”

Judd Marmor was born in London in 1910, the son of a Yiddish scholar. The family moved to the United States and he grew up in Chicago and later in New York. After graduating in medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons while supporting himself with odd jobs and debating scholarships, he set up a psychiatric practice in New York. During the second world war he served in the US navy. After the war he moved to Los Angeles, where he became a psychoanalyst to Hollywood celebrities.

He began to treat homosexual patients who wanted to change their sexual orientation, as then recommended. He wasn't too successful. According to Eric Marcus's Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights 1945-1990 Marmor was appalled by psychiatrists' generalisations about homosexuals: “All terribly nasty, negative, disparaging things. I knew gay men and women. This view just didn't make sense to me.”

Marmor was director of the division of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, and adjunct professor of psychiatry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, all in Los Angeles. He served as president of the American Psychiatric Association, the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry, and the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. He published eight books and more than 350 scientific papers. He reached millions of ordinary Americans as informal consultant to the syndicated “Dear Abby” newspaper advice column.

He loved tennis and played three times a week into his early 90s. With his wife, Dr Katherine Marmor, he began collecting American art in the 1950s, including works by Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. Prints from the collection were exhibited at the Stanford University Museum of Art in 1997.

Predeceased by Katherine, he leaves a son and two grandchildren.

Judd Marmor, professor of psychiatry University of Southern California (b London 1910; q Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, 1933), died from congestive heart failure on 16 December 2003.

Janice Hopkins Tanne

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