I did a short segment on the Mitch Albom show on WJR in Detroit yesterday. I don’t know if they’ll post it, but I transcribed it, partly so I could go check later whether what I said was true. They emailed me just a little while before the show, and I didn’t know the angle he would take, so I wasn’t as prepared as I’d prefer to be.
Here it is, unedited, with a couple links added:
Mitch Albom [Q]: Nine days of testimony that dealt in all kinds of issues came to an end last week in the case that might knock down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban… passed 10 years ago with a 54% approval rate. However, it has been challenged by a couple wanting to adopt, a gay couple, and there has been all kinds of talk about what is a fit family and what is not a fit family for children to grow up in. And there were a number of different people who spoke on this case, and drew a lot of controversy over their particular opinions on it. So we thought we’d open that up, and first talk with Philip Cohen, who is professor of sociology at University of Maryland and then go to some phone calls on that. Professor Cohen, thanks for coming on.
Philip Cohen [A]: Thanks for having me.
Q: So there was a rather controversial part of this testimony, with Dr. Mark Regnerus… The part of what he said that interested a lot of people was, there hasn’t been enough data yet, to come to conclusions about whether or not a same-sex household – two women or two men – raising children, is good for them. It takes time to study that kind of thing. Is there any validity to that?
A: It certainly is true that we can’t generalize and say, ‘this is good’ or ‘this is not good’ from the research that we have, partly because gay marriage isn’t legal in a lot of places yet, so we can’t study what happens when gay and lesbian couples are allowed to be married and raise kids, which is a significant wrinkle.
Q: [paraphrase: there are plenty of gay and lesbian couples who are parents even though they’re not married – does the marriage ‘piece of paper’ really make a difference to ‘how the kid grows up’?]
A: It’s hard to tell if the piece of paper causes it, but people whose parents are married have certain advantages that we can observe – they are more likely to have higher incomes and be healthier and more successful in school – but we can’t say that the marriage certificate is what causes that.
Q: There doesn’t seem to be any shortage, from those who are proponents of gay marriage, or saying, ‘All the evidence shows that there’s no problems [with the children]. We’ve got all kinds of people from the American Psychological Institute [he meant Association -pnc] who say, ‘There’s no evidence that anything can be wrong’… So what confuses me as a neutral observer is, how come one side is saying there’s not enough data to come to any conclusions – good, bad, or otherwise – you just said it on our show, and the other side is saying, ‘There’s no evidence whatsoever that there’s anything wrong with it.’ How can those two things coexist?
A: Well, I wrote a paper that said this, and the American Sociological Association, which I am a member of, wrote a brief that said this, that said there is no evidence, and no real reason to believe, that kids would not do as well if they had gay or lesbian parents. That’s not the same as saying we know for a fact that there is no difference. It’s a little semantic, but it’s important.
Q: … What about people who say, there is a traditional father role, a traditional mother role. I don’t need to define – most people can sort of tell what that means, and that that’s important to the upbringing of a child.
A: For a lot of people it is important. You know, and yet, single mothers, single fathers, raise children all the time. People are widowed, or separated, never married, and, you know, if you wanted to go that way, different parents bring different things. Poor people are more likely to have children that grow up to be poor. But we’re not going to say poor people can’t have children. This is a feature of inequality in our society. So it’s a little odd that we would impose this kind of a test on a particular marriage. So, another way to say it is, there’s no reason to think that sexual orientation, or the gender of the parents, by itself, would have a bigger impact than lots of other things that we know. I think it’s just more important to say, we have laws about how parents have to treat their children. We have a public school system, we have – you know, you can’t do anything you want with your children. It’s more important, I think, for us to say, ‘How can we help parents be good parents – all kinds of parents – how can we help children survive and thrive and be happy and successful.’ And, you know, there’s a lot of different things about a lot of different kinds of parents, and to make a law excluding one particular family arrangement really just doesn’t make much sense to me.
[break for traffic report]
Q: You said something that was curious to me. You said that poor parents frequently have children that grow up to be poor. Is there any evidence that gay couples have children who also end up being gay?
A: No. Actually, that’s important. It’s not true genetically – that is, people who are gay that have biological children, they’re not more likely to be gay, and people who raise children there’s no evidence that their children are more likely to end up being gay.
Q: But now, again, isn’t that something that, given that most people don’t come out until adulthood, that you need a certain number of years to determine that?
A: We can’t say for sure, right, the truth is, if you give me a hundred thousand gay and lesbian couples, and give me twenty years to study their children, I can’t say we’re not going to find a whole variety of small differences that we don’t know exist yet. Absolutely, sure.
Q: Overall, you’re an academic so you know what constitutes a, quote, ‘lot of research.’ Has there been a, quote, ‘lot of research’ on this question at all?
A: Well, Mark Regnerus’s complaint is that there has been a lot of research, and it’s not been systematic in the sense of randomly selecting couples to study. So a lot of the research that we have is based on people who volunteered to be in studies. And people who volunteer to be in studies are not random. They tend to be people who are proud of who they are, and they think they’re doing it well. So, there is not a lot of research. But I also want to stress, you know, marriage has kind of an amorphous thing – there is something about marriage which is different from just living together, and the fact that we can’t yet study married gay and lesbian couples really puts a limit on how much we can understand.
Q: [other host asks something about Regnerus ‘taking a lot of heat’…]
A: No, I don’t think people are scared to get into this research. He went into it, and the trial testimony showed, he went into it with an agenda to show that gay marriage should not be allowed. His funding came from conservative foundations, it was planned out at a meeting organized by the Heritage Foundation. So he took a very strong position going in, which he kind of soft-pedals when he talks about the research. But there’s nothing stopping serious researchers from studying this topic.