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Same-sex marriage bans are under heavy fire

Published March 5, 2014 9:11 am

Courts • Filings at the appeals court range from Republican politicians to states and social scientists.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The nation's largest professional association for sociologists says the states of Utah and Oklahoma are misrepresenting research on child well-being to make their cases against gay marriage.

The American Sociological Association says positive outcomes for children are tied to stable two-parent relationships and greater parental resources — regardless of whether the two parents are a same-sex or different-sex couple.

The association, in a brief filed with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of plaintiffs who challenged same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma, says some studies cited by the states did not evaluate children of same-sex parents at all; in others, findings are misstated.

"These studies cannot serve as the basis for conclusions about same-sex parents and related child outcomes and do not undermine the social science consensus that children fare just as well with same-sex parents," the association said in its brief.

In fact, studies that show stability improves child outcomes confirm that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples is likely to benefit children in such households, it said.

The filing is one of nearly two dozen amicus briefs filed by local and national groups urging the appellate court to uphold decisions by two different federal court judges that the states' laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Among those voicing that opinion are constitutional law professors; gay rights groups; the American Psychological Association and its Utah counterpart; military and religious organizations; 20 current or former Republican politicians; a coalition of 15 states and the District of Columbia; Voices for Utah Children and The Children's Center of Salt Lake City; Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center; and Alliance for a Better Utah.

OutServe SLDN and the American Military Partner Association, which were instrumental in the repeal of the federal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, said the "uneven patchwork" of marriage laws is hindering the military's efforts to recruit and retain gay and lesbian service members and complicating distribution of veteran's benefits.

"No legally married couple would look fondly upon a move from a state where a couples' marriage is recognized to a state where their marriage is essentially annulled for state-law purposes," according to the groups' brief. "The unequal treatment of same-sex and opposite-sex military couples and their families undermines the well-established principle of uniformity, which lies at the heart of military unit cohesion and morale."

Each state is home to a major military base: Hill Air Force Base in Utah, and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

Voices for Utah Children joined an amicus brief filed by the Family Equality Council and COLAGE . Karen Crompton, president, said the child advocacy's work is guided by one question: Is it good for children?

"All children should enjoy the social and economic benefits of marriage," Crompton said in a statement. "Same-sex parents are successfully raising their children and want what all parents want — bright, secure and hopeful futures for the children."

In its brief, the Alliance for a Better Utah said "fundamental rights of gay and lesbian Utahns have been trampled on by the state's insulated political and social majority" through marriage bans.

The bans "specifically exclude those couples from participating in an integral aspect of their state's culture," the alliance said, and "are nothing more than sad examples of the type of 'unwarranted usurpation, disregard, or disrespect' of a right that the Constitution is designed to prevent."

Among the 20 Republicans who submitted a brief are former U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming; Katie Biber, former general counsel to Romney for President Inc.; Melvin D. Nimer, treasurer of the Salt Lake County Republican Party; and John G. Storrs, north region chairman and Salt Lake County Republican Party executive committee member.

The group, most from states within the 10th Circuit Court's jurisdiction, said they share " a common belief in the importance of limited government, individual freedom and stable families" as well as a belief that government "must act when individual liberties are at stake."

Government should promote "family-supportive values," but such "considerations cannot be determined based solely on history and tradition," they said.

"Marriage is strengthened and its benefits, importance to society, and the social stability of the family unit are promoted by providing access to civil marriage for same-sex couples," the Republican group said in its brief. "It is precisely at moments like this — when discriminatory laws appear to reflect unexamined, unfounded, or unwarranted assumptions rather than facts and evidence, and the rights of one group of citizens hang in the balance — the courts' intervention is most needed."

Many of the groups presented similar briefs in Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 cases when they were before the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as in two cases in the 9th Circuit Court of appeals.

The American Sociological Association zeroes in on a central argument made by the states: The bans against same-sex marriage are in the best interest of children.

Nationwide, more than 220,000 children are living in same-sex households, according to 2012 American Community Survey data. The association said studies show children raised by gay and lesbian parents do just as well as children of different-sex parents on a variety of measures, including academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health and substance abuse.

"Unsubstantiated fears regarding same-sex parents do not overcome these facts and provide no justification for upholding the marriage bans," the group said. "We should encourage stable and financially secure family units — including same-sex parent families — rather than exclude the hundreds of thousands of children living with same-sex couples from the stability and economic security that marriage provides."

That point of view was echoed in a brief filed jointly by the American Psychological Association and the Utah Psychological Association, which said that the consensus of mainstream mental health professionals and researchers is that homosexuality and bisexuality are normal expressions of human sexuality and pose no obstacles to a happy, healthy and productive life.

Children raised by parents who are providing them with "loving guidance in the context of secure home environments are likely to show more positive adjustment, regardless of their parents' sexual orientation," the groups said.

The American Sociological Association said findings of some studies cited by the states "draw inappropriate apples-to-oranges comparisons," do not address same-sex parents at all or mischaracterize findings. Some studies looked at stepparents, single parents and adoptive parents; one even looked at children of sperm donors.

The association said authors of one study cited by the states have "explicitly" disclaimed use of their findings to bolster the idea that different-sex parents are better. Both the sociological and psychology groups criticized a 2012 study of child outcomes by Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. The American Sociological Association said Regnerus' study was discredited by a group of more than 100 social scientists for failing to account for family structure and family instability; a second study done that same year was equally flawed, the association said.

On Monday, as Regnerous prepared to testify in a Michigan court case, the chair of the university's sociology department issued a statement distancing itself from his views. The school's College of Liberal Arts issued a similar statement in February.

brooke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Brooke4Trib —

State gets last word

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to extend the deadline for Utah to file its final response in its appeal to March 11. Oral arguments are set for April 10 in Denver.