Researchers Object To Their Parenting Study Being Used In Arguments Against Marriage Equality

Paul Clement

Both briefs challenging marriage equality at the Supreme Court, in the cases defending the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, cited a 2002 study called “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children and What Can We Do About It?” to argue that children are better off with opposite-sex parents. However, Carol Emig, president of the non-profit Child Trends that conducted the study, told the Washington Blade that there is nothing in it to substantiate an argument against same-sex parenting:

EMIG: The Child Trends brief in question summarizes research conducted in 2002, when same-sex parents were not identified in large national surveys. Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the well-being of children raised by same-sex parents. We have pointed this out repeatedly, yet to our dismay we continue to see our 2002 research mischaracterized by some opponents of same-sex marriage.

In the House Republicans’ brief defending DOMA, for example, lead attorney Paul Clement uses the study to emphasize that children are somehow better off with their biological parents:

One of the strongest presumptions known to our culture and law is that a child’s biological mother and father are the child’s natural and most suitable guardians and caregivers, and that this family relationship should be encouraged. To be sure, our tradition offers the same protections for an adoptive parent-child relationship, once it is formed.  But nonetheless when both biological parents want to raise their child, the law has long recognized a distinct preference for the child to be raised by those biological parents.   And this bedrock assumption is grounded in common sense and human experience:  Biological parents have a genetic stake in the success of their children that no one else does.

Of course, only relationships between opposite-sex couples can result in children being raised by both of their biological parents.  Therefore, when government offers special encouragement and support for relationships that can result in mothers and fathers jointly raising their biological children, it rationally furthers its legitimate interest in promoting this type of family structure in a way that extending similar regulation to other relationships would not.

Clement’s argument obviously makes no sense on its face and is offensive to the unflinching love and support that adoptive parents, foster parents, step-parents, and of course same-sex parents have for the children they are raising. If his suggestion that the institution of marriage somehow favors parents “raising their biological children” were true, it would have to simultaneously discourage parents from raising non-biological children. The very groups that oppose marriage equality encourage adoption services (like the Catholic Church), so this argument for “biological children is hypocritical.” Clearly, it is being used specifically to stigmatize same-sex couples, and it doesn’t even have the research to support that claim.