As you will know from earlier posts, there is a very interesting trial proceeding in Michigan. It’s a challenge to laws that prohibit a same-sex couple from marrying and therefore from jointly adopting. The plaintiffs are a lesbian couple each of whom has adopted children out of foster care. Though they have been together for quite some time, the two women cannot adopt each other’s children. This puts the children at risk in various ways–the non-adoptive mother is not a legal parent of the child.
What’s really interesting is that the trial judge is hearing live testimony from a series of expert witnesses of various sorts. You can follow along via twitter coverage or blog coverage or the local (Detroit) paper. I’m sure there will be other coverage, too, but how much can one take in.
So what to think? You can see that some of the testimony (particularly cross-examination) is devoted to showing that all the experts approach the subject of same-sex couples and children and marriage with a point of view. That isn’t surprising, really. Most people probably tend to study thing they find interesting, things they care about, and very few people are completely without opinions on these topics.
Does that mean that the experts are unreliable or that their studies are invalid? Not necessarily. But perhaps it is something to keep in mind as one assesses their work.
The timing of studies also seems to me to be noteworthy. With broader availability of ART and the rise of lesbian visibility, more lesbians are giving birth and raising children from birth. Once lesbian parents were almost invariably women who had been married to men, had children and then discovered they were lesbians. Those two populations (the older lesbian parent and the newer one) are pretty different. Older studies will necessarily have more of the former and fewer of the latter. Newer studies will have more of the latter and fewer of the former. They ought to look different, shouldn’t they?
And then there is what exactly was studied. One really has to pay attention to details. So for example, it seems to me Professor Regnerus studied adults who, as children, had a parent who had a same-sex relationship. This is not the same as studying children raised by lesbians. It isn’t the same as studying lesbian families, either.
The vast majority of the population he studied in this group were, by definition, children of parents who had split up. (All except those 2, in fact.) And he contrasted them (because this is how he designed his study) to children of intact families where both parents were genetically related to the child. Now lets assume children in the latter group were way more successful than children in the former group. What can we conclude about why? It seems to me (and I concede I am no expert) that you have too many variables here. Maybe you could do the comparison with children who had a parent who had a different-sex relationship with someone other than their spouse?
There are, of course, methodological critiques aimed at the studies used by those who support access to marriage–they are small and perhaps there are problems with selection of samples. But what I don’t see is a reasonably methodologically sound study that shows that children of same-sex parents do poorly.
So here, I think, is a key question. What if we don’t know for certain that children will do well and we don’t know for certain that children will do poorly? Then what? MI will argue that this means you shouldn’t allow the lesbian couple to marry, but that makes little sense to me. Will not allowing them to marry improve the lot of their children (for lesbians in MI have children)? Will it decrease the likelihood that lesbians will have children? Will it move any children from heterosexual households from same-sex households?
I don’t see how it will do any of these things–and this is where I think the case must fail. Even if the defendants have some dots, they don’t seem to me to connect up properly.