Thursday, October 11, 2007

Marriage Symposium

Last fall, the Rutgers Law Review held a symposium, "Same-Sex Couples and the Exclusive Commitment," inspired by the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision, Lewis v. Harris, 908 A.2d 196, Rutgers website (N.J. 2006), which held that New Jersey must provide same sex couples with marriage or a legal equivalent. If you're keen to read about marriage issues, the symposium articles are available here.

The articles present a range of opinion, but first one I looked at (George W. Dent, Jr., How Does Same-Sex Marriage Threaten You?, 59 Rutgers L. Rev. 233) got my dander up. It took the position that same-sex marriage is a threat to society because heterosexual marriage is important for reproduction and child-rearing and, ultimately, social stability. Well, it was my bad luck for choosing that article: I'd thought it would finally explain to me how same-sex marriage threatens heterosexual marriages (the author didn't really mean to include me in the "you" of his title), but it didn't.

I suppose we all choose what to believe based on our existing beliefs and assumptions. I believe the studies that say that kids do pretty well with gay or lesbian parents. On the other hand, Prof. Dent believes the people who say that those studies are flawed. He believes that "Children conceived by artificial reproductive technologies and reared apart from one or both biological parents 'hunger for an abiding paternal presence.'" (59 Rutgers L. Rev. 233, 242)

In this instance, I have a lot of social scientists on my side. The American Psychological Association filed an amicus brief in Lewis v. Harris (as it has done in many cases, including the marriage equity cases here in Washington). The APA summarizes:
APA's brief provides the Court with the scientific and professional literature pertinent to the issues before the Court. * * * The brief addresses the extensive psychological literature that has found no difference between same-sex and heterosexual couples on characteristics such as levels of intimacy, feelings of commitment and desire for relationships * * * .

Additionally, the brief addresses the large number of children raised by lesbians and gay men, both in same-sex couples and as single parents. APA takes the position that ending the prohibition on marriage for same-sex partners is in the best interest of the children being raised by these parents as the children will benefit from the legal stability and other familial benefits that marriage provides. The brief cites empirical research which shows that lesbian and gay parents do not differ from heterosexuals in their parenting skills, and their children do not show any deficits compared to children raised by heterosexual parents.

Unlike past APA briefs supporting same-sex couples, this brief also addresses the social and psychological benefits – to both gay and heterosexual people – of marriage as an institution. The brief states that allowing same-sex couples to marry would give them access to the legal, social, and economic support that already facilitate and strengthen heterosexual marriages as well as end the antigay stigma imposed by the State through its same-sex marriage ban. Also addressed are invalidities in the research presented by opponents of same-sex marriage.

In summary, the APA brief states that there is no scientific basis for distinguishing between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples with respect to the legal rights, obligations, benefits, and burdens conferred by civil marriage.
The full brief is available here.

This raises issues of cognitive authority. Why do I believe "my" experts while he believes his? He did have footnotes to support his statements, after all -- it's not that he made it all up. I'm not inclined to believe his experts because I'm committed to believing that I'm OK, my relationship is OK, and my relationship doesn't really jeopardize society. For his part, he's not likely to believe the experts cited in the APA's brief. Before believing them, he would probably counter that the APA (or at any rate the APA's leadership that agrees to amicus filings) has been taken over by benighted fools who can't judge research, or mischaracterize results to suit the GLBT community.

What does it take to change one's beliefs, to be open to the long string of studies the APA cites rather than the books and articles Prof. Dent cites?

The mayor of San Diego changed his mind, apparently because was able to generalize from his lesbian daughter to all the people excluded from the straights-only marriage law. Sanders changes mind on gay marriage: Mayor supports effort to overturn state ban, Union-Tribune, Sept. 20, 2007.

Not everyone will have an LGB or T family member -- but more and more people know that they know, respect, and like bent folks, and that makes them more open to changing their beliefs about social science, policy, and law.

Speaking of developing public awareness:

Thanks to Outlaws for today's activities in celebration of National Coming Out Day! It was great to see people around the law school wearing badges proclaiming their support of LGBT rights. I didn't get a chance to pick up my sticker until late in the day, but I have it now: "I DO Support Marriage Equality."

1 comment:

Aimee said...

I started reading Dent's article, Mary, and I immediately noticed how he referred to same-sex marriage as "SSM." Shorthand, yes, but it definitely sends a different message than referring to it as marriage or another type of common family status. None of the other articles do this. It seems that even in his choice of language, he is casting same-sex marriage further into the realm of "other."