Conservative columnist George Will's op-ed in Friday's Washington Post essentially claims that social science research is irrelevant — and too new to be useful — in the debate about same-sex marriage in this country. With the nation's highest court due to take up two cases relating to marriage equality next week, Will advises the justices to "tread cautiously, if at all, on this dark and bloody ground." Will contends that "same-sex marriage is a matter about which intelligent people reasonably disagree, partly because so little is known about its consequences."
But Nathaniel Frank, an author and LGBT advocate, isn't shy about his assessment of Will's argument. "It’s intellectually dishonest, scientifically ignorant, and — I’ll say it — anti-gay," writes Frank in a scathing op-ed for Slate. By dismissing the value that social science research offers to the marriage equality debate, Frank contends that Will is "wildly off-base," and doesn't understand the basic tenets of the scientific method.
Zack Ford at ThinkProgress eviscerates Will's faulty logic and points out that Will is throwing out a red herring in his opposition to marriage equality. Calling Will's two primary arguments "unsupportable," Ford continues: "The first is that any social science that supports a liberal position shouldn’t be trusted because social science already has a liberal bias. The second is that it’s reasonable to conclude that it’s impossible to measure anything that hasn’t been legalized, even if legalizing it is the only way to test it. Together, these form a tautological argument that social science is only valid and useful if it supports keeping things the way they already are, which is not only a very narrow dismissal of the work social scientists already do, but also a philosophy that inherently prevents change."
Even Will's fellow (albeit liberal) blogger at the the Post, Carter Eskew, takes issue with Will's flawed logic. "What I find slightly ridiculous is Will's failure to acknowledge the social data that is in," writes Eskew. "While it may be true that years of closeted behavior has made it difficult for social scientists to have enough information to determine the likelihood of gay marriages to succeed and to gauge the parenting skills of gay couples or single gay parents, there is more than enough on their heterosexual brothers and sisters. Divorce remains rampant, child neglect, abuse and abandonment are on the rise, and increasing numbers of heterosexual women are choosing to raise children alone."
Frank sums up the counterargument to Will's fearful rant perfectly. "None of this should matter," writes Frank. "Even if gay parenting did disadvantage kids, it wouldn’t follow that gay marriage should be banned since gay people — like single and divorced people — will have kids no matter what. How could banning gay marriage help those — or any —kids? And if we based straight marriage rights on predicting durability, half the country wouldn’t be allowed to wed."