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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Conservatives resort to junk science in marriage equality debate

Nelson Lund, Wall Street Journal:
The Supreme Court is hearing two cases this week that represent a challenge to one of the oldest and most fundamental institutions of our civilization. In Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, the court is being asked to rule that constitutional equal protection requires the government to open marriage to same-sex couples.
The claimed right to same-sex marriage is not in the Constitution or in the court’s precedents, so the court must decide whether to impose a new law making marriage into a new and different institution. The justices are unlikely to take so momentous a step unless they are persuaded that granting this new right to same-sex couples will not harm children or ultimately undermine the health of our society.

A significant number of organizations representing social and behavioral scientists have filed briefs promising the court that there is nothing to worry about. These assurances have no scientific foundation. Same-sex marriage is brand new, and child rearing by same-sex couples remains rare. Even if both phenomena were far more common, large amounts of data collected over decades would be required before any responsible researcher could make meaningful scientific estimates of the long-term effects of redefining marriage.
First off, what would Lund’s argument be if science showed that same-sex parents did a better job of raising children than mixed gender parents? Would he be advocating that mixed gender marriage be abolished? I kind of think he wouldn’t, for the same reason that he’s not advocating that marriage rights be reserved only for the very rich — obviously, children in that circumstance have all the advantages, which means everyone else’s kid is at a disadvantage. So the argument that the Supreme Court needs to consider social science is pretty much dead right there. If they were to decide who was allowed to marry based on outcomes, very few people would be allowed the privilege.

But he’s not content to leave it at sloppy logic. He goes on to cite a controversial study that showed that same-sex relationships were bad for children:
There has been only one study using a large randomized sample, objective measures of well-being, and reports of grown children rather than their parents. This research, by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas Austin, found that children raised in a household where a parent was involved in a same-sex romantic relationship were at a significant disadvantage with respect to a number of indicators of well being—such as depression, educational attainment and criminal behavior—compared with children of intact biological families.
One might expect this work at least to raise a caution flag, but it has been vociferously attacked on methodological grounds by the same organizations that tout the value of politically congenial research that suffers from more severe methodological shortcomings. This is what one expects from activists, not scientists.
To say it’s been “attacked” isn't quite right. The Regnerus study has been thoroughly debunked. Even the author of the study admits it’s flawed — although it would be more accurate to say it was rigged. It basically compared all sorts of different households to stable married families. It doesn’t actually study the parenting of same-sex couples at all.

“He doesn’t have an actual category of gay parents in the project that you can isolate and say the most important thing in this kid’s childhood is that they were raised by gay parents,” Judith Stacey, a sociologist at New York University, said of the study. “These are kids whose parents, maybe they divorced, maybe they separated, maybe they had a scandalous affair, we just don’t know.”

Of course, Lund’s “science” is burning up the rightwing blogosphere, because it’s so much more comforting to hate when it’s justified somehow — even if that justification is bullshit.

[photo by MiiiSH]

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