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April 4 , 2014

300 couples marry after Michigan judge strikes ban

Detroit--A federal district court judge struck Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage on March 21, leading to a nuptial bonanza that allowed 300 couples to marry, but then put them in legal limbo.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, a conservative Reagan appointee to the federal bench, declared the ban unconstitutional and did not issue a stay of his decision. The next day, clerks in four Michigan counties began issuing marriage licenses, and 300 couples availed themselves before the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued a temporary stay later in the day. The appellate court made the injunction permanent on March 26.

The trial saw decades of social science research in favor of same-sex parenting going up against a single flawed study by Mark Regnerus, a conservative sociologist who published his journal article in 2012. That study, funded by religious conservative groups, found that children of same-sex parents had worse outcomes than those of opposite-sex couples. However, 200 of his peers condemned the study in a letter, and his own department called the study flawed for methodological and conceptual reasons. An audit finally determined that the study should never have been published.

Regnerus’ testimony crumbled under cross-examination from an ACLU attorney. He admitted that he tried to hide the influence of his conservative funders and his own religion and that his opposition to same-sex marriage predated his study.

“Although Regnerus touted the [New Family Structures Study] as one of the few studies to use a large representative pool of participants drawn from a random population-based sample, other sociological and demographic experts . . . heavily criticized the study on several grounds,” Judge Friedman wrote. “First, it failed to measure the adult outcomes of children who were actually raised in same-sex households. This is because the participants’ household histories revealed that many parental same-sex romantic relationships lasted for only brief periods of time. And many of the participants never lived in a same-sex household at all.”

“Regnerus reported that ‘just over half (90) of the 175 respondents whose mother had a lesbian relationship reported that they did not live with both their mother and her same-sex partner at the same time,’ ” he continued. “Second, many critics voiced their concern that the NFSS made an unfair comparison between children raised by parents who happened to engage in some form of same-sex relationship and those raised by intact biological families. This is because almost all of the children in the former group were the offspring of a failed prior heterosexual union, which produced a significant measure of household instability and parental relationship fluctuation.”

Friedman, who stated in his opinion that he gave great consideration to the pro-marriage experts, wrote, “The court finds Regnerus’ testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration. The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that his 2012 ‘study’ was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder, which found it ‘essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society’ and which ‘was confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study.’ ”

“The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged,” Friedman concluded.

Friedman similarly dismissed other anti-marriage testimony. “Marks, Price and Allen all failed to concede the importance of ‘convenience sampling’ as a social science research tool,” he wrote. “They, along with Regnerus, clearly represent a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majority of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields. The most that can be said of these witnesses’ testimony is that the ‘no differences’ consensus has not been proven with scientific certainty, no that there is any credible evidence showing that children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than those raised by heterosexual couples.”

With a federal judge tossing out virtually the entire body of social science research opposed to same-sex marriage, it is unclear what tactic can possibly be used to support marriage bans going forward.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, was non-committal in discussing the couples who were married on March 21. He said that he believed they were married under Michigan law, but that the state would not recognize those marriages.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder, however, said on March 28 that the federal government will recognize the marriages, even while the case is being appealed, as it did with marriages performed in Utah at the end of last year.

“For purposes of federal law, as I announced in January with respect to similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah, these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled,” he said, pointing to last June’s United States v. Windsor decision striking section three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.





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