Sociologists breathed a sigh of relief when U.S. district court judge Bernard Friedman, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, ruled that Michigan’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional (here is the decision). What I wish we’d call homogamous marriage commenced a few hours later.
We’re relieved because the social science consensus was put on trial in the case, as the judge allowed researchers to debate whether gay and lesbian parents are bad for kids, to see if any rational basis could be found for a state law that clearly harms gay and lesbian couples. He concluded there was no such basis.
I discussed the case and its anti-equality experts here (Mark Regnerus) and here (Douglas Allen), and the whole history is hashed out on the Regnerus tag. And Judge Friedman seems to have agreed. He concluded of Regnerus, “The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.” And of the anti-equality experts in general:
The Court was unable to accord the testimony of [Loren] Marks, [Joseph] Price, and Allen any significant weight. … They, along with Regnerus, clearly represent a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majority of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields.
Like the brutal dismissal of non-expert David Blankenhorn in a similar case in California, Friedman’s assessment was simple and fair. In Blankenhorn’s case, he simply wasn’t an expert at all. In the Michigan case, team no-rights simply had no convincing evidence to support their claims. His detailed description of their failure is worth reading.
In this trial, and in the several years we’ve been hashing this out, the good experts have not received nearly as much attention as the charlatans, which is too bad because there were really good. In his summary of the evidence, Judge Friedman offered these evaluations:
David Brodzinsky: “The Court finds Brodzinsky’s testimony to be fully credible and gives it considerable weight.”
Michael Rosenfeld: “The Court finds Rosenfeld’s testimony to be highly credible and gives it great weight.”
Vivek Sankaran: “The Court finds Sankaran’s testimony to be fully credible and gives it great weight.”
Gary Gates: “whom the Court also found to be a highly credible witness.”
Nancy Cott: “The Court finds Cott to be highly credible and accords her testimony great weight”
The bad-for-children argument is bad science, bad politics, bad morals, and bad law.
This is not some politically-correct cover-up. I would have been perfectly willing to report results — if I had them — showing that children being raised by gay and lesbian couples had more trouble than those raised by heterogamous couples. Why not? They’re a subordinate group, experiencing all manner of discrimination (much of it completely legal), and for most of history they haven’t even been allowed to marry. Judge Friedman wrote (with reference to Rosenfeld’s study):
Taking the state defendants’ position to its logical conclusion, the empirical evidence at hand should require that only rich, educated, suburban-dwelling, married Asians may marry, to the exclusion of all other heterosexual couples.
In other words, some of my favorite social groups have children who share in their subordinate social status and marginalization. With regard to their right to marry, so what? To make this a rational reason for a state ban, you would have to show not only that it was some inherent quality of their gender that harmed the children, and that the harm was greater than the many other risks we subject children of parents to, but also that allowing same-sex couples to marry would somehow make this worse. Friedman concluded,
There is, in short, no logical connection between banning same-sex marriage and providing children with an ‘optimal environment’ or achieving ‘optimal outcomes.’
Anyway, the legal question we’re heading for here, really, is the legal power of individual states to ban same-sex marriage. That was what the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision (which I wrote about here) didn’t decide. But in that decision, Justice Kennedy signaled SCOTUS’s willingness to take that on, writing that the “states’ interest in defining and regulating the marital relation [is] subject to constitutional guarantees,” a passage Friedman quoted, adding, “These statements are not merely surplusage.”
Not mere surplusage because Kennedy made the remark in the context of the Loving v. Virginia case that overturned mixed-race marriage bans. Like today’s cases moving toward the Supreme Court, Loving eventually came down to whether states had the power to impose unconstitutional limits on marriage. And the defenders of those racist laws used the same last-ditch arguments that Regnerus used this time. The science is unsettled, they said. Here is an excerpt from the state of Virginia’s appeal to SCOTUS*:
If this Court (erroneously, we contend) should undertake such an inquiry [into evidence of a scientific nature tending to support or undermine a legislative determination of the wisdom or desirability (of Virginia’s interracial marriage ban)], it would quickly find itself mired in a veritable Serbonian bog of conflicting scientific opinion upon the effects of interracial marriage, and the desirability of preventing such alliances, from the physical, biological, genetic, anthropological, cultural, psychological and sociological point of view. The available scientific materials are sufficient to support the validity of the challenged Virginia statutes whether the constitutional standard be deemed to require appellants to demonstrate that those statutes are arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable or to require the State to show a compelling interest in the continuation of its policy prohibiting interracial marriages. In such a situation it is the exclusive province of the Legislature of each State to make the determination for its citizens as to the desirability of a policy of permitting or preventing such alliances-a province which the judiciary may not constitutionally invade.
Virginia then cited the science of the day:
The statistical evidence incorporated in this study makes it clear that the ‘odds’ do not favor intermarriages, in that almost two to four times as many intermarriages as intramarriages end in divorce, separation or annulment. This is a highly significant fact. It is objective and utterly free from emotion-inducing factors. It ought, therefore, to be considered and weighed most carefully.
And then they quoted a study: “In the absence of any uniform rule as to consequences of race crosses, it is well to discourage it.” That is Regnerus almost verbatim.
Taken together, both the Windsor and Loving decisions stand for the proposition that, without some overriding legitimate interest, the state cannot use its domestic relations authority to legislate families out of existence. Having failed to establish such an interest in the context of same-sex marriage, the MMA cannot stand.
And with that he teed up the case for the Supreme Court.
And with that we can update the tipping point chart (last updated here). Please note this figure has its imitators, but no one else calculates the percentages using the state and national populations for each year!
Give it till the end of the year to get back on the curve-breaking track.
* Richard Perry LOVING, Et Ux., Appellants, v. VIRGINIA, Appellee., 1967 WL 93641 (U.S.), 49