Op-ed: Science Is No Substitute for Civil Rights
Perhaps the most offensive suggestion out of the Supreme Court's hearing on Proposition 8 in March came from Justice Samuel Alito, who warned that newfangled same-sex marriages are experimental.
"You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet?" asked Alito. Sure, nothing bad has happened so far, but "we do not have the ability to see the future."
Maybe gays getting married isn't a civil rights issue, Alito implied. Maybe it's more like vetting a new pharmaceutical drug. Maybe we should commission clinical trials and years of studies proving there aren't harmful side effects that need listing in small print on our gay-marriage licenses.
Because people who think like this hold positions of power, here come the studies. Here come the researchers arguing over esoteric matters such as sample size. LGBT people and our families become all the more dehumanized as a result.
Among the worst and most predictable revelations about Mark Regnerus of University of Texas and his discredited "New Family Structures Study" is that those funding the work wanted it completed in time for the Supreme Court to consider. The American Independent actually found an email to Regnerus from his funders. “It would be great to have this before major decisions of the Supreme Court," suggested the president of the Witherspoon Institute, which had contributed $700,000 to the research.
Regnerus delivered. His study found that children with gay parents are worse off than those with straight parents.
After the study was published in Social Science Research, the list of things wrong with its methodology grew almost immediately. Just the other day, a big-shot researcher called the whole thing "bullshit." I respect the digging and debunking everyone has done, no doubt with many hours of work. Still, I worry we are unwittingly buying their premise — that whether we deserve equality depends on the results of a peer-reviewed study.
In this case, science is the cloak of wackos who want to appear well-reasoned. No matter how many studies we charter to disprove his homophobia, Alito isn't going to march in a Pride parade. He's still going to worry that prolonged exposure to gay marriage could cause cancer or memory loss or the unraveling of the family unit and decline in the value of the dollar.
Anyone who believes in the almighty power of science is likely to argue that if only researchers would follow the rules, then the results will eventually vindicate same-sex parents. It's true, we have nothing to hide.
Right on cue, researchers from Melbourne University this month released interim results from something called the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families. It's billed as the largest study ever of same-sex parents, with more than 500 children involved and more than 300 parents. The families complete a widely respected survey called the Child Health Questionnaire. The results made headlines worldwide because it shows kids with gay parents are fine.
As the father of two foster children, I guess I'm relieved. Gay parents in many countries and states are not even considered legally married. Many of us can be fired from our jobs for being LGBT. And those are only the really big problems.
A pair of moms in Jacksonville, Fla., were just told they can't have a membership to the local kids' museum because two moms don't qualify for a "family" pass. Our kids are allowed in the Boy Scouts, but their dads or moms are still banned from mentoring the troops.
The greatest problem facing the children of same-sex parents is the relentless inequity their families face. It's a miracle, to me, that any study concludes the kids are all right. It's also a testament to good parenting happening every day.
I never imagined the legion of worries I have now as a dad. When my twin foster daughters first arrived, I would sometimes tiptoe to their cribs as they slept and peer through the darkness, watching carefully to make sure they were still breathing.
Upon entering a room, I do a mental sweep for choking hazards and then go on patrol, keeping the girls a safe distance away. Maybe 15 times each day, I pick up from the floor all the books they've pulled off the shelf so no one slips and bumps her head.
I never worry, though, that my girls are any less loved.
Thousands of LGBT people already have children. This isn't new. A useful study by the Williams Institute revealed that some of the largest concentrations of same-sex parents and children are in states where there is no marriage equality. Salt Lake City in Utah, for example, topped the list.
The proper role of studies about same-sex marriage or LGBT parents is to answer the question that keeps me awake at night — whether society's discrimination is harming our children. In the meantime, I'll do the best I can to protect my girls, as does every parent.
As we await the Supreme Court's ruling on whether Proposition 8 should be overturned in California and whether the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, I'm hopeful that something Justice Anthony Kennedy said during the hearing gets the attention it deserves.
"There is an immediate legal injury," he suggested, "and that's the voice of these children." He was talking about the tens of thousands of kids in California who have gay parents. "They want their parents to have full recognition and full status," Justice Kennedy said. "The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?"
LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and two foster children.