Sociology, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Courts

Ed Whelan’s threepart series on the implications of new studies on the parenting outcomes of people who have same-sex relationships is must reading.  Today I weigh in myself at Public Discourse with a piece titled “Supreme Court Take Notice: Two Sociologists Shift the Ground of the Marriage Debate.”  Here’s a sample:

How much does this new study matter for the legal debate over same-sex marriage? A very great deal. Same-sex marriage advocates have argued in state and federal courts that traditional marriage laws have no “rational basis,” or that they fail some other more stringent form of “scrutiny” under constitutional provisions guaranteeing due process and the equal protection of the laws. Defenders of marriage have responded that one prominent basis for the conjugal definition of marriage is that the optimal form of family for raising children is the stable union of a married man and woman bringing up their own biological children. The ties of nature, the presence of both parents in the home, the modeling of manhood and womanhood for the next generation—in addition to a host of material benefits produced by stable relationships of this type—have been presented by defenders of marriage as among the reasons for preserving the status quo in law. With decades’ worth of research supporting the “two-parent family ideal” (a phrase used by sociologists Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur) as generally better for children than being raised in families experiencing divorce, or headed by merely cohabiting couples, or by single mothers, or in other variations of broken-and-mended families, the argument would seem to have a lot going for it.

Yet a significant number of social scientists have come forward—in the public press, in legislative hearings, and in courts of law—to suggest the unlikely conclusion that the one form of family that equals or approaches the “two-parent family ideal” of a married man and woman is the family headed by a same-sex couple.

Claims like these can no longer be credited–if they ever could have been by people with any understanding of sound research practices in social science.  And the work of Mark Regnerus in particular resoundingly reorients the debate:

Regnerus’s ground-breaking peer-reviewed article, “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” compares eight different kinds of family structure, including those in which a child was raised by a parent who had had a same-sex romantic relationship. Regnerus finds that the “intact biological family,” headed by a man and woman married to each other throughout the raising of their own children, is indeed the “most secure environment for child development.” Children raised by a parent who had been involved with someone of the same sex are, to a significant degree, more likely to record, in their own estimation in interviews, a variety of negative outcomes related to their upbringing.

Read the rest here.  And for a fuller summary of Regnerus’s work, see Ana Samuel’s essay published by Public Discourse yesterday.


Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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