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March 11, 2004

Catching Up with the Issue

Today was going to be the day that I finally caught up. It didn't quite work out that way. However, I don't want to let some items having to do with gay marriage go unlinked, so I'm throwing them all into one post.

First up is another great summary column, this time by Thomas Sowell, offering some of the intellectual clarity that can temporarily slip away as one attempts to wrestle specific components to the ground through debate.

Homosexuals were on their strongest ground when they said that what happens between "consenting adults" in private is none of the government's business. But now gay activists are taking the opposite view, that it is government's business -- and that government has an obligation to give its approval.

Sowell's conclusion is particularly important to remember, and particularly quickly left out of much of the debate:

Centuries of experience in trying to cope with the asymmetries of marriage have built up a large body of laws and practices geared to that particular legal relationship. To then transfer all of that to another relationship that was not contemplated when these laws were passed is to make rhetoric more important than reality.

The Boston Globe, meanwhile, reports "the other side" on the social science debate over the effects of same-sex parenting:

Patterson said that, while each study can be criticized, taken as a whole the studies point to a scientifically valid conclusion: Being raised by gay or lesbian parents does not make a child substantially different from his or her peers.

"In the long run, it is not the results obtained from any one specific sample, but the accumulation of findings from many different samples that will be most meaningful," Patterson wrote in one study. She added in a recent interview: "The point is that the studies yield the same results over and over."

It is precisely that consistency that piqued the interest of sociologist Judith Stacey of New York University. To Stacey, it didn't make sense that children raised in somewhat different circumstances would be exactly the same -- findings of "no difference, no difference, no difference, just seemed so implausible," she said. So, she began looking carefully at the existing studies.

In 2001, Stacey and her colleague, Timothy Biblarz, then both at the University of Southern California, published a review of the social science research, stating that not only had researchers actually found some intriguing differences but that they had lowballed them for fear of how the findings would be used.

This has been the way such research has gone from the very beginning. In Andrew Sullivan's Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con (which is admirably balanced, particularly given the source and his work subsequent to the book's release in 1997), several "no difference" studies were summarized and followed with a refutation by Philip Belcastro. Belcastro faulted methodological factors, but he also noted that a "disturbing revelation was that some of the published works had to disregard their own results in order to conclude the homosexuals were fit parents." From the three studies that met at least minimal internal validity, Belcastro highlighted some underplayed findings. Here's a sample drawing from them all:

  • Lesbians' daughters were more likely to choose male activities than daughters of heterosexual mothers.
  • Lesbians' sons were more likely to have a strong preference for female activities than heterosexual mothers' sons.
  • Lesbian mothers were less likely to encourage their sons and more likely to encourage their daughters in sex-role behavior than heterosexual mothers.
  • Lesbian children were more likely to draw the family as involved in separate activities than children of heterosexual mothers.
  • Paul (1986) surveyed adult offspring of gay and bisexual households and reported 23.5 percent of the subjects homosexual.

It's true that times were different back then, but gay activist Kate Kendell, one of the witnesses for the first gay marriage in San Francisco, mentioned recent research, in 2001, "that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are somewhat more likely to have a greater fluidity in their sexual expression and may in fact be more likely to identity as lesbian or gay." Of course, proponents of gay marriage — who tend to be anti-judgmentalists, anyway — will simply dismiss such concerns as not really indicative of harm, just difference. Well, those who think this way, and those who don't, won't likely change their minds; however, it behooves we who oppose gay marriage to remember that "no evidence" means no evidence of anything that gay marriage proponents care about.

On a related note, Elizabeth Marquardt argues that children will actively seek to hide some of the sorts of things that will more universally be seen as "harm":

Here's the problem, from an investigative point of view: Children love their parents, and children notice when their parents are vulnerable. In my own study of children of divorce they are much more likely to say they felt protective of their mothers, especially, than children of intact families are. Many other studies confirm this. They tried to hide their own feelings from their mother in order to protect her. I can only imagine that children of gays and lesbians feel even more protective of their parents who are stigmatized by society. Moreover, children themselves are vulnerable. They need their parents' love, attention, and affection. It takes a very secure child to make what sounds like significant criticisms of choices his or her parents have made (such as saying "Yes, I wish I had a mom") when he or she is not even a teenager yet, especially when the parents are sitting right there for the interview.

Another type of underplayed "evidence," it has seemed to me, is that homosexuals generally, and those who support their cause, have been keeping mum about any doubts that they might have about gays and marriage. The Marriage Debate blog quotes from the New York Times fashion section, which is hardly the first place for the matter to leak through the informational movement, so to speak:

Many gay men and lesbians--in fact most of the ones I know--are not jumping to jump the broom. They like their status as couples living between the lines, free of all the societal expectations that marriage brings. But since they don't want to feed politicians using gay marriage as an election issue, they are largely mum.

"It's very hard to speak freely right now," said Judith Butler, a gender theorist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "But many gay people are uncomfortable with all this, because they feel their sense of an alternative movement is dying. Sexual politics was supposed to be about finding alternatives to marriage."...

That's not to say that there isn't a reason to fight for a basic civil right. But ask around. You'll find more than a few gays questioning an institution that mixes property rights with love, church with state. Some also complain that a legal and legislative process that should take time to evolve has become a media circus. They even wonder if they will be forced to marry to receive domestic partnership benefits from their employers. And of course, given the present divorce rate, many feel that most civil unions are more civilized than marriages.

Note that "mixes church with state" objection, which represents a whole other aspect of the gay marriage battle to watch. The idea of separating civil marriage from religious marriage has hit the Senate:

Sen. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that marriage should be redefined as a religious ceremony, allowing for a civil "marital contracts'' for both gay and heterosexual couples.

"The Bible said, 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's,'" Dayton said in a conference call with reporters.

"Under the separation of Church and state, federal and state governments should leave marriage to God and to the religions of this country,'' he said, "and separate out the civil aspects of what is now termed marriage as a different term, whether it's legal union or marital contract.''

It's hardly even arguable, anymore, that the movement that would bring gay marriage is likely to dilute civil marriage out of existence, one way or another. From the religious perspective, as I've written before, either the movement will seek to force churches and synagogs to perform the ceremonies, or they will seek to make religious ceremonies irrelevant in the civil sphere.

Posted by Justin Katz at March 11, 2004 7:52 PM
Marriage & Family


Belcastro faulted methodological factors, but he also noted that a "disturbing revelation was that some of the published works had to disregard their own results in order to conclude the homosexuals were fit parents."

This, of course, is not the first time that important social science findings have been low-balled in order to conform to a premeditated conclusion. The Coleman Commission is often cited as prodividing evidence that "separate but equal" was impossible. And, indeed, if you read the summary conclusion it says something of the sort. But if you actually read the findings themselves they support the notion that school resources, whether for black or white school populations, really don't make much difference. So, at least in terms of schools and achievement there's no reason to believe that separate was necessarily unequal in any significant sense. Since Coleman a lot of ink and scholarly reputation has been spilt attempting to disprove the Coleman findings, but to little avail. They seem to stand the test of time.

There are a host of reasons to avoid "separate" school systems for different ethnic groups, but equalizing school achievement and student performance aren't among them.

Posted by: Sierra Whisky Tango at March 11, 2004 8:24 PM