The American Sociological Association (ASA) has submitted an amicus curiae, or "friend of the court" brief, in Obergefell addressing the well being of children raised in same-sex unions.
The ASA has weighed in strongly supporting same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting with the potent claim that "the clear and consistent social science consensus is that children raised by same sex parents fare just as well as children raised by different sex parents." This is a selective and dishonest reading of the research.
In fact, the ASA's argument falls apart on closer inspection. Though the ASA amicus brief dismisses a number of studies with results inconvenient to its case, these dismissed studies are far more robust than the research the ASA uses.
Most of the studies the brief relies on are based on "opportunity samples," samples built by non-randomized methods that are unusable for making conclusions about general or national behavioral patterns. This is like sampling the members of the National Rifle Association to ascertain what Americans in general think about gun control.
Thousands of such biased studies would be rendered irrelevant by one good study from a large national randomized sample. Were the topic anything other than same-sex parenting the ASA would be the first and loudest voice denouncing this methodological flaw.
In contrast, there are four national survey reports that, through their sample size, upend the ASA's assertions.
The first report is by a Canadian professor of economics Douglas W. Allen. Using the massive Canadian decennial census data, Professor Allen found that children of same sex households and marriages have much poorer high school graduation rates than children of opposite sex married parents. Canada has had same-sex marriage for over 10 years and so has more data on the topic than we do in the United States.
The second and third reports were published more recently by an American sociologist, Donald Paul Sullins at Catholic University of America. These papers were based on the combined annual samples of the federal government's National Health Interview Survey. This survey yielded large U.S. population samples, which, in turn, provided large data sets of same-sex parenting couples, and their children, including sufficient numbers of married same-sex couples.
The results of Sullen's survey did not support the arguments that the ASA submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court. To the contrary, the data indicated that children parented by same sex couples have worse emotional outcomes and more attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than those raised in intact married families.
The fourth report, the most famous one to date, was the first study to directly challenge the "consensus" ASA point of view. Published by Professor Mark Regnerus (University of Texas, Austin), the study used data from a nationally representative survey but not one generated by the government. Prior to this study, Regnerus was a widely published and admired researcher. But he has since suffered personal and professional attacks leading to severe academic hardship, simply for daring to challenge the "consensus" with random sample data.
The attacks on Regnerus and on the editor of the journal that published his work sent a bullying message not lost on any academic or journal editor: "Do not question our pro-same-sex marriage 'consensus' or we will destroy you." Even the ASA's amicus brief itself gives evidence of this approach to contrary data.
Though the ASA dismisses each of these superior reports due to limitations they find in the data — limitations pointed out by these researchers themselves— the amicus brief of the American College of Pediatricians rebuts the ASA arguments point by point.
Sadly, the ASA has become the enemy of its own discipline. Rather than encouraging open research, promoting a diversity of academic approaches to the issue and calling for a national survey capable of shedding light on this issue, the ASA has helped suppress research by bullying an open-minded journal and vilifying a respected research professor who came to the politically incorrect conclusion on same-sex parenting.
As a result, no American journals will now publish research with results that challenge the ASA's view. Scholars must now go overseas to get published on this topic. Forget about doing a dissertation honestly examining the consequences of same-sex parenting or getting a faculty appointment or tenure based on such research. Such is the research culture that the American Sociological Association has created.
The ASA Amicus Brief's Reduction to the Absurd
By suppressing nationally representative data, the ASA has backed itself into an uncomfortable corner: The logical conclusion of what they have submitted to the Supreme Court is that there is no impact on a child born to heterosexual parents and then separated from one parent and raised by the other parent and that parent's new homosexual partner. This claim flatly contradicts incontrovertible evidence that child-parent separation even in a heterosexual context has a significant impact on the children involved. For the ASA's "consensus" position to hold true, same-sex married parents must be uniquely superior to heterosexual parents in erasing the natural consequences of such separations.
The conclusion is so implausible that the ASA does not draw it, but instead fills its brief with methods that fail "Statistics 101."
However the Court decides, the consequences of same-sex parenting for the couples, the children and society are too profound to sweep this under the rug. What really happens in same-sex households needs to be properly examined. Unfortunately, for that we will have to wait until academic freedom returns to sociology.
This column was orginally published in The Stream.