The Science Denialism Behind Equal Marriage Opponents
The science denialism of equal marriage opponents centres around the outcomes of children. Many claim that biological heterosexual parenting is uniquely beneficial to children. They argue that same-sex marriage should not be legalised until it is shown that children of same-sex parents have the same outcomes as their heterosexual parented counterparts. Not only is such logic completely spurious, it has already been proven that there is no differences in the outcomes between children of either parenting structures, equal marriage opponents simply fail to accept this fact.
Mark Hoofnagle details the 5 tactics which science denialists use in an attempt to sow confusion when there is a clear scientific consensus: conspiracy, selectivity, fake experts, impossible expectations (moving goalposts), misrepresentations and logical fallacies. Below I will describe how equal marriage opponents, “traditional” marriage advocates, utilise all 5 tactics in their quest to deny homosexuals equal marriage rights.
This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. There have been dozens if not hundreds of research papers which have all found that there is no difference in the outcomes of children. Conversely there have only been 2 which have found otherwise. A paper by Dr Sotirios Sarantakos claimed that children of same-sex couples had worse outcomes, however, Sarantakos almost exclusively studied children who had experienced a divorce. And when his findings were compared to children of heterosexual parents who also underwent a divorce they were identical. The other is the now infamous research conducted by Dr Mark Regnerus, who accepted a $35000 grant from an anti-equal marriage organisation, the Witherspoon Institute. Essentially, Regnerus was paid to come up the conclusion that they wanted and Regnerus conducted some heavily flawed research to ensure he did just that. These two papers were picked up and cited by a plethora of anti-equal marriage groups while the dozens of other papers are completely ignored.
2. False Experts
We have already seen how anti-equal marriage groups trumpeted the research of one fake expert in Mark Regnerus. Another expert they attempted to use was Loren Marks. In 2010 Loren Marks was expected to testify on behalf of the defendants in the Proposition 8 court case, then known as Perry v Schwarzenegger. He was called to testify that the two-biological-parent family structure was the most beneficial to children, however, he was dropped after making some shocking admissions in cross examination.
- He admitted to not actually reading all the research he cited; in fact, he had read “justportions of it”.
- He admitted cherrypicking only data that were relevant to his argument.
- He admitted that his religious convictions may have influenced him when he conducted the study.
- He admitted that his belief that the ideal family structure is marriage between a man and a woman predates his work as a social scientist and does not stem from his research.
- He admitted the reports he used didn’t define “biological” in the genetic sense: it also encompassed adoptive parents. He was forced to remove the word “biological” in the report he prepared.
- He admitted he never actually researched any same-sex couples.
Marks’ primary research is in faith and the family and he has no experience nor expertise in child development. Marks subsequently wrote another paper where he calls into the question the validity of research which show similar outcomes for children in either parenting structure. He claims that the sample sizes are too small to arrive at any adequate conclusions. Another researcher, Dr Steven Nock, a demographer with no expertise in child development nor has he ever studied same-sex couples, is also oft cited by equal marriage opponents. Nock too tries to undermine the scientific consensus by questioning the research’s sample sizes.
3. Impossible expectations
There are many different scientific methods utilised by researchers across dozens of disparate fields. Each method is tailored to yield the best and most accurate results for each different field of study. For child developmental psychology small-medium longitudinal studies are employed. This is the methodology which was used when ascertaining the outcomes of children of same-sex parents in the studies critiqued by Marks and Nock. By demanding large scale studies, Marks, Nock, and their supporters are asking psychologists to abandon their preferred methodology in favour of one which is less nuanced, with less depth, and would not yield conclusions which would be as accurate. If it were true that small-medium sample size cast doubt on the validity of the research’s conclusion, it would also call into question the validity of the whole field of psychology as this methodology is used across the entire discipline.
Both equal marriage proponents and opponents acknowledge the benefits marriage has on children. Stability is key to childhood development and married couples, generally speaking, offer the most stability. However, opponents somehow want same-sex couples to prove that they offer the same benefits to childhood while simultaneously denying them the stability which marriage brings. This puts homosexual couples at a disadvantage. If opponents were sincere they would demand that unmarried cohabiting homosexual couples are compared to unmarried heterosexual couples, they do not.
The most often misrepresented research is a paper by Child Trends Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do about It? 2002.
Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage…There is thus value in promoting strong, stable marriage between biological parents.”
However, what equal marriage opponents fail to add is that same-sex couples were not part of this study. The paper was limited to step-parents, married couples, single parents, and cohabiting couples. So when the paper concludes that “the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage”, it is only out of the four family structures that were studied and it says nothing of same-sex parents, nor adoptive parents. In fact, there is a caveat situated on the very first page which equal marriage opponents conveniently ignore:
Note: This Child Trends brief summarizes research conducted in 2002, when neither same-sex parents nor adoptive parents were identified in large national surveys. Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the wellbeing of children raised by same-sex parents or adoptive parents.
When pressed on this blatant misrepresentation, some attempt the “that is not what we said excuse” and refer to this part of the caveat “this Child Trends brief summarizes research conducted in 2002, when neither same-sex parents nor adoptive parents were identified in large national surveys”. As same-sex parents were not found in large national surveys, then nobody can be certain about the outcome of children of same-sex parents. Thus heterosexual parenting offers the best outcomes to children that people are aware of. However, even this little backtrack is a misrepresentation. The study of same-sex parenting is relatively new so it is silly to try and make a statement about the current body of research based on the lack of research from over a decade ago. In fact, there have been numerous large scale national surveys conducted since which focused on same-sex parents.
This charge is a little bit more tenuous as it has never been directly said, but simply implied. For equal marriage opponents to ignore the dozens of social science and psychological papers and qualify them as flawed, they have to believe that all the authors of the papers and those who peer reviewed them suspended their academic standards and integrity to allow sloppy research to be published. Hundreds of researchers from dozens of countries all allowing the publication of flawed research without comment. Not only that, but numerous pediatric and psychological organisations from around the globe have risked their reputations by accepting these “flawed” research papers and declared their support for equal marriage. That is indeed a conspiracy of an unimaginable scale.
Or, it could be the case that research of an acceptable scientific standard conducted by professionals, reviewed by professionals, and accepted by professionals as good, solid scientific research.