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Emily Hecht-McGowan's picture

McgowansToday, a federal district court in Michigan begins hearing testimony challenging the state’s ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry. Opponents of marriage equality are, yet again, dragging out the same tired arguments and the same discredited “studies” that attempt to disprove what we all know to be fact – and what more than 30 years of research proves – that children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as kids raised by different-sex parents.

While there are numerous marriage equality cases making their way through both state and federal courts across the country, DeBoer v Snyder is a bit different. The case in question was originally filed by a lesbian couple, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, seeking only to complete 2nd-parent adoptions for their three children. Michigan law restricts adoption to single people and married couples, so even though DeBoer and Rowse have been raising their three children together since 2010, each child has only one legal parent, while the other is considered a legal stranger.

After reviewing the case, Judge Bernard Friedman, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, suggested that it is Michigan’s constitutional amendment banning marriage (as well as other forms of relationship recognition) for same-sex couples that is the problem, and suggested the couple amend their original complaint to challenge the marriage ban. While still pursuing their goal of adoption rights, DeBoer and Rowse are now also challenging Michigan’s marriage ban on the grounds that it violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Because of its origins, and perhaps more so than any other marriage case currently making its way through the courts, this particular case is primarily about children.  To be clear, granting children the protection and security of legal ties to both of their parents should never hinge on the marital status of the two parents involved.  The issue of whether we can treat the children of married and unmarried parents differently has long been settled (Lalli v. Lalli and Trimble v. Gordan).  Children have the right to all of the benefits and protections of both of their parents, regardless of marital status and I believe that Judge Friedman erred in his decision to make this case about marriage rather than about 2nd-parent adoption.  However, given that those defending Michigan’s marriage ban have hinged their entire case on the premise that marriage is about “responsible procreation” and that children fare better in homes where they’re being raised by their married mother and father, it is our hope that this case will establish a record in federal court that will finally discredit – under oath – the fundamentally flawed research upon which marriage equality opponents constantly rely.

On the witness list for the defense is Mark Regnerus, author of a paper that purports to prove children of gay and lesbian parents fare far worse than children raised by a married mother and father. Since its publication in 2012, this “study” has been repeatedly cited in new bills and cases aimed at restricting the ability of LGBT people and same-sex couples to marry and/or adopt children. And time and again, proponents of these discriminatory measures fail to acknowledge the critical flaws in this “study.” While I will not recount all of the ways in which this research has been discredited, which you can find here, I will highlight two critical pieces of information. First, Regnerus’s definition of who qualifies as a gay or lesbian parent is ludicrous. He deems a parent who had any same-sex romantic relationship as a “gay or lesbian parent,” regardless of the duration of that relationship. Second, of the approximately 3,000 people surveyed, only 236 respondents identified that either their mother or father had a same-sex relationship sometime during their childhood. And of these 236 young adults ONLY TWO were actually raised by a same-sex couple for their entire childhoods and only a small percentage said they had been raised by a same-sex couple for more than a few years.

The Regnerus paper is NOT about gay and lesbian parenting – in fact, it has virtually nothing to do with the ability of gay and lesbian people to be parents. At best, what we can conclude is that divorce, income level, employment status, criminal history, mental health, experience with sexual abuse, experience with drug and alcohol abuse, and overall happiness all contribute to negative outcomes for children. If there is any useful message to take away from this fundamentally flawed analysis is what we’ve known all along – the more stable the home and family life, the better the outcomes for kids. And all of the major national child welfare associations agree – the American Psychological Association, Child Welfare League of America, National Association of Social Workers, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry – whether they are single, married, adoptive or biological, gay and lesbian people make good parents.

At the end of the day, while this trial will have broader implications on the rights of all same-sex couples in Michigan, this case is, at its heart, about April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse and their three children. April and Jayne are raising their children in a happy, healthy and loving home and my guess is that they don’t need a court of law to tell them that they’re a family. It’s clear that these kids are thriving and their parents are providing them with all of the love, stability and nurturing they need. But the very real fact remains that these children are put at risk every day because they are denied the benefits and protections of both federal and state laws that other children – children of opposite-sex and married parents – are afforded without question.  At what point will we put an end to the discriminatory practices that deny all children the fundamental rights they are entitled to?

This post was first published on the Family Equality Council's blog, The Family Room.

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