Saturday, 23 July 2011

Franken and Minnery and Focus on the Family

Much to the delight of many of us, Al Franken "eviscerated" a Focus on the Family representative, Tom Minnery, during the recent hearings on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. Minnery's testimony included this line: "children living with their own married biological or adoptive mothers and fathers were generally healthier and happier". Franken points out that the study he used to justify these claims is making claims about nuclear families and the definition they use of "nuclear family" does not exclude gay married couples. To quote from the study, "A nuclear family consists of one or more children living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all children in the family."

But the study, is entitled "Family Structure and Children’s Health in the United States: Findings From the National Health Interview Survey, 2001–2007" and included data gathered in the US from 2001-2007, as the title suggests. In that time period, only one state in the US, Massachusetts, allowed gay marriage and that state only allowed it since 2004. So, while the strict definition of "nuclear family" as defined in the study may include any family that had married parents, in fact, the data collected really must almost entirely involve nuclear families that include a married mother and father. In that sense, Minnery's claims are  legitimate even if he wasn't explicitly quoting the study's definition of "nuclear family". Insofar as it makes claims about nuclear families, it's, in fact, making claims about families consisting of one or more children living with two opposite-sex parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all children in the family, because, with a tiny exception, the only people who could be married during the time period under consideration were opposite sex couples.

Of course, Minnery wants us to conclude that same-sex marriage is undesirable based on the data and I doubt the data allows us to draw such an inference. In fact, there's good evidence to the contrary. See, for example, "US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-Year-Old Adolescents" which showed "According to their mothers’ reports, the 17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts in Achenbach’s normative sample of American youth". So Minnery is almost certainly wrong about the undesirable family ramifications of same sex marriage. He may even be a bigot, I don't know. But I don't think it's fair, at all, to suggest that he completely misrepresented or lied about what one could conclude from the study in question.

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