Justice
6:55 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Michigan's same-sex marriage case analysis – parenting edition

The plaintiffs in Michigan's same-sex marriage case with their children.
Credit Lester Graham

Update 9:06 p.m.

The appeals court ruled this evening the ban will continue to be in place while the case makes its way through the courts.  

Original post 6:40 p.m.

A decision is expected as soon as tomorrow on what exactly is happening with Michigan's same-sex marriage ban.

As talk of the case heats up again, it's worth looking into what last week's decision had to say about the issue of same-sex parents.

To recap, one of the main arguments the state put forward to keep the ban on same-sex marriage was, the state said, because children are better off when raised by heterosexual couples.

The court wasn't having it. In the run up to the case, some social scientists were worried courts would get more involved in the business of determining who makes a good parent, and then taking away or extending rights to that person because of that. 

Not in this case.

In fairly harsh, sometimes sarcastic language throughout his opinion, Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed all the experts, studies and arguments the state put forward on this point. Friedman dismissed a study by Mark Regenerus routinely cited as evidence that kids raised by same-sex couples have poorer outcomes, as "entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration." 

Friedman basically said Michigan allows couples to get married all the time who may or may not make good parents. He added that relying on studies about which children are most likely to succeed would lead to absurd policy. 

Taking the state defendant's position to its logical conclusion, the empirical evidence at hand should require that only rich, educated, suburban-dwelling, married Asians may marry, to the exclusion of all other heterosexual couples. 

If this case does move up through the federal courts, the conviction with which Friedman dismissed the arguments around parenthood makes it unlikely future opinions on this case will focus much on the parenting questions raised by the state.

Interestingly, hidden in this decision is a lot of information about what science has to say about what makes a good parent and the conditions necessary for kids to thrive. All the studies relied upon by the court to prove children of same-sex couples are as likely to do well as other children had to control for race and class. Basically, the gender of the person a child's parent chooses to love is much less important than the advantages or disadvantages that child will face because of race and class.