SCOTUS justices can’t find science on same-sex marriage

So we found it for them. 

by Emily Willingham      

In their recent consideration of the legality of same sex marriage, two members of the Supreme Court called into question whether or not the science exists demonstrating that these unions do not harm children. During oral arguments over whether or not to uphold the legality of California’s Proposition 8, which codifies marriage as being only between one man and one woman, Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy both questioned whether or not science or “experts” had confirmed the harmlessness of same-sex marriage to children. Justice Samuel Alito then noted that same sex marriage was newer than cell phones or the Internet (transcript here).

Unless the ancient Greeks had cell phones and wireless, he’s wrong on that. And based on that reasoning, it would have been just fine for a Supreme Court justice hearing Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954 to point out that school desegregation was a concept newer even than television. Does that mean anything?

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, presenting the case before the court, offered up another comparison:

Well, the social science is still uncertain about how biracial children will fare in this world, and so you ought to apply rational basis scrutiny and wait. And I think the Court recognized that there is a cost to waiting and that that has got to be part of the equal protection calculus.

Not all same-sex couples intend to have children; indeed, their alleged inability to have biological children as a couple is one argument frequently forwarded against recognizing their marriages, primarily by people who think marriage exists only for the purposes of pro-creation. So it’s unclear how the effect of same-sex marriage on children is relevant to the question of how marriage should be defined.

What is clear is that the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with a statement [PDF] confirming what many people know already: What’s good for children has nothing to do with the sex or gender of the parents and everything to do with how strong family relationships are and what the family’s social and economic resources are.


Something that could negatively influence a child who has two parents of the same sex are social messages from people who have determined, based on phobias or religious interpretations, that such marriages aren’t legitimate or will threaten their own heterosexual unions. Another thing that could negatively influence a child with two loving parents in a same-sex partnership? When members of the highest court in the nation, during oral arguments in a landmark case, question the existence of science confirming the safety of same-sex marriage for children while simultaneously demonstrating that they haven’t bothered to look for it.

Because it’s there.

First, some numbers. According to the AAP statement, same-sex couples in the U.S. are raising a total of 115,000 children; if you roll in households with a single gay or lesbian parent, this country has at least 2 million children being raised by non-heterosexual parents.

Two million children. And that doesn’t even count children being raised by parents in an outwardly heternormative relationship but whose gender identities and sexual behaviors might not be so, well, hetero as presumed. Again, whether it’s obvious or not, the sex or gender of the parent isn’t inherently harmful to a child. It’s how society reacts to it.

Guess what the science whose existence Scalia and Kennedy questioned has to say on the subject? The AAP–you know, the experts on children who also might not exist, according to the Supreme Court–says

There is extensive research documenting that there is no causal relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and children’s emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral development. (11 citations given) Many studies attest to the normal development of children of same-gender couples when the child is wanted, the parents have a commitment to shared parenting, and the parents have strong social and economic supports. Indeed, current research has concluded that “In all, it is now well-established that the adjustment of children and adolescents is best accounted for by variations in the quality of the relationships with their parents, the quality of the relationship between the parents or significant adults in the children’s and adolescents’ lives, and the availability of economic and socio-economic resources.”

The reference they cite for that last statement is this one, which is unfortunately paywalled. However, it is a review of the available data and was published a year ago. In the abstract, the authors clearly state that

Dimensions of family structure—including such factors as divorce, single parenthood, and the parents’ sexual orientation—and biological relatedness between parents and children are of little or no predictive importance …

This information has been available for almost a year. The AAP statement appeared online on March 20, days before the Supreme Court heard these arguments. The science is there. The experts had spoken. Is the problem that some members of the Court just don’t want to hear it?

Image credit: Toby Hudson, via Wikimedia Commons, Attribution-Share Alike License.

8 thoughts on “SCOTUS justices can’t find science on same-sex marriage

  1. I cringed when I heard on NPR “Well, the social science is still uncertain…”
    The precautionary principle rarely works, and it certainly doesn’t work when we have good science to base our decisions on. Thanks for another great post.

  2. Pingback: Kalex's Tome » SCOTUS justices can't find studies on same sex marriage | Kalex's Tome

  3. Pingback: SCOTUS Justices Can’t Find Science On Same-Sex Marriage | shpot

  4. Pingback: SCOTUS Justices Can’t Find Science On Same-Sex Marriage

  5. They posted your article on PopSci but the post says “Some Supreme Court justices are wondering if science can show that gay unions don’t harm children. Uh, yes, it can” – Obviously they mean to say: YES Science CAN SHOW that gay unions DON’T harm children. – They DON’T mean to say: YES gays unions CAN harm children, but some people are taking it to mean the latter. It’s curios to me because I read it the right way when I first saw it but after seeing the reaction on the PopSci Facebook page, I see how it could be interpreted in an unintended way. You’d better get after PopSci’s Facebook people about that. (FYI)

  6. Pingback: SCOTUS Justices Can’t Find Science On Same-Sex Marriage |

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