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Op-ed: Michigan Judge, not marriage studies, is ‘unbelievable’

By William C. Duncan

First Published Mar 29 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 29 2014 01:01 am

What does "unbelievable" mean? To most of us, it means that something is clearly not true or at least is so implausible as to justify our rejecting it as an explanation.

In his ruling last week that the U.S. Constitution requires Michigan to change its legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, Judge Bernard Friedman vociferously attacked four social scientists. The state had relied on their work to cast doubt on the notion that social science establishes that there are no differences in outcomes for children raised by a married mother and father and those raised by same-sex couples, of whom only one could possibly be the child’s biological parent.

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Judge Friedman dismissed all of the witnesses, two for no real reason and the other two because the judge found their research "unbelievable." Why?

In the case of Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas, the judge points to four factors. One is that his study has limitations, which is true of all studies and which Dr. Regnerus freely admits. Another is that it was funded by a third party who hypothesized that it would demonstrate what anyone with a cursory knowledge of family studies would guess — that children are likely to benefit from being raised by a married mother and father.

Then, the judge said the study has critics(!) who didn’t like the study’s design but who have yet to follow the credible scientific path: produce their own research with different results. This criticism is particularly interesting. The judge and the critics fault the study for not comparing children raised for long periods by same-sex partners (the fact that so few could be found in the random sample is itself telling). But earlier in the opinion, the judge said the social scientific consensus was that "there is no discernible difference in parenting competence between lesbian and gay adults and their heterosexual counterparts." So the judge’s favored evidence has nothing to do with children’s outcomes when raised by any kind of family form, but he is bothered that Dr. Regnerus didn’t study that question.

At least Dr. Regnerus’ study was actually relevant to the case since it looked at the effect of family structure on children rather than at the parenting skills of individuals with varying sexual attractions.

So apparently "unbelievable" to Judge Friedman means that he has been told something he didn’t want to hear.

Loren Marks, a professor at Louisiana State University, is also labeled "unbelievable." Why? Because after an "excruciatingly detailed examination of the 59 published studies" relied on by the American Psychological Association for its position statement that children raised by same-sex couples will not experience any differences in outcomes from children raised by their married mother and father, he found the studies had small and voluntary samples (making them difficult to generalize), used faulty comparisons, and had many other problems. This sounds like important evidence, but Judge Friedman is not interested because it "clearly represent[s] a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majority of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields." As if scientific truth were established by its popularity among academics.

So, again, "unbelievable" doesn’t mean untrue or even implausible but merely inconvenient. In fact Judge Friedman says the state’s witnesses demonstrated that "the ‘no differences’ consensus has not been proven." So "unbelievable" can apparently mean correct but not in accordance with what a federal judge chooses to accept. Who knew?

What’s unbelievable in this case is the hubris of the judge.


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William C. Duncan is the director of the Center for Family and Society at Sutherland Institute.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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