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Four Examples Of The Junk Science That’s Been Used To Defend DOMA In Court

March 27, 2013 9:24 am ET by Carlos Maza

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on March 27 -- nearly two years after Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) convened the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) to take up the law’s legal defense. Since that time, BLAG – represented by attorney Paul Clement – has introduced an array of skewed research and pseudoscience to defend the law. As the nine justices consider DOMA’s constitutionality, it’s worth revisiting the flawed research that’s served as the basis for many of BLAG’s anti-equality arguments in court.

1. The Regnerus Paper

In their reply brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, proponents of DOMA cited a paper written by Mark Regnerus, an associate sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, to claim that children do better when raised in “intact heterosexual marriages”:

One of the few studies to attempt to overcome the difficulty in finding statistically meaningful numbers of children raised from infancy by homosexual couples did so by including children with a parent who had a homosexual relationship regardless of its duration, after “significant efforts” to locate the former kind of children failed—and it found that children raised in intact heterosexual marriages had significantly better outcomes. See Mark Regnerus, How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?

The Regnerus paper has been widely criticized for a number of reasons. The paper has deep methodological flaws, and has been manipulated to influence the Supreme Court. In addition, the paper has been criticized by experts on child welfare who found its results misleading. Regnerus – who has become active in the anti-equality movement since the publication of his paper – has admitted that it doesn’t actually address the question of same-sex parenting and an internal audit by the journal that published the paper bluntly called Regnerus’ work “bullshit.”

2. The Child Trends Brief

In their Supreme Court brief, DOMA’s proponents cited a research brief from Child Trends, a nonprofit that “studies children at all stages of development,”  to support the “bedrock assumption” that children do best when raised by their biological parents:

[W]hen both biological parents want to raise their child, the law has long recognized a distinct preference for the child to be raised by those biological parents. And this bedrock assumption is grounded in common sense and human experience: Biological parents have a genetic stake in the success of their children that no one else does. See Kristin Anderson Moore et al., Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children and What Can We Do About It?, Child Trends Research Brief 1-2 (2002)

But the authors of the Child Trends brief have repeatedly criticized opponents of marriage equality for mischaracterizing their work. According to the Washington Blade:

“The Child Trends brief in question summarizes research conducted in 2002, when same-sex parents were not identified in large national surveys,” [president of Child Trends Carol] Emig said. “Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the well-being of children raised by same-sex parents.”

Emig added, “We have pointed this out repeatedly, yet to our dismay we continue to see our 2002 research mischaracterized by some opponents of same-sex marriage.”

3. Lisa Diamond’s Research

In their district court brief, BLAG cited the work of Lisa Diamond, associate professor of developmental psychology at the University of Utah, to make the case that sexual orientation isn’t an immutable characteristic:

Plaintiff’s claim runs headlong into the differing definitions of the terms “sexual orientation,” “homosexual,” “gay,” and “lesbian” supplied by Plaintiff’s own experts See Dep.of Letitia Anne Peplau, Ph.D. (July 8, 2011) (“Peplau Dep.”) at 11:19-13:3, attached as Ex. B toDugan Decl. (declining to use term homosexuality and defining sexual orientation, gay, and lesbian); Dep. of Gary Segura, Ph.D. (July 8, 2011) (“Segura Dep.”) at 14:17-16:15, attached as Ex. C to Dugan Decl. (defining gay, lesbian, and homosexual); Chauncey Dep. at 12:15-15:15, attached as Ex. A to Dugan Decl. (acknowledging that some people distinguish “gay” and “homosexual,” but stating that he uses them synonymously; defining the terms gay, lesbian, homosexuality, and homosociality); see also Lisa Diamond, New Paradigms for Research on Heterosexual & Sexual-Minority Development , 32 J. of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychol. Case 1:10-cv-08435-BSJ -JCF Document 50 Filed 08/01/11 Page 18 of 35 11492 (2003) (“There is currently no scientific or popular consensus on the exact constellation of experiences that definitively ‘qualify’ an individual as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.”) [emphasis added]

In response, Diamond submitted an affidavit explaining that BLAG had “incorrectly characterized” her research and that her work “says nothing whatsoever about the immutability of sexual orientation itself”:

My quoted statement concerns the scientific and popular debates over the defining characteristics of LGBT individuals and it says nothing whatsoever about the immutability of sexual orientation itself. Hence, BLAG has incorrectly characterized my research.


Counsel for BLAG never requested that I serve as an expert witness for them in the above-referenced lawsuit. If they had so requested, I would not have agreed to do so.

4. George Dent’s Paper

BLAG’s brief in opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment (the plaintiffs’ request for a ruling in their favor as a matter of law) also cited a paper by law professor George W. Dent titled “No Difference?: An Analysis of Same-Sex Parenting.” Dent’s paper criticizes mainstream studies about same-sex parenting, arguing that children raised by gay couples fare worse than children raised by heterosexual couples.

But Dent’s paper was based on the work of a number of notoriously discredited researchers, including Paul Cameron and George Rekers. According to gay rights blogger Alvin McEwen:

On page four, Dent cites both Paul Cameron and George Rekers, both discredited researchers. Cameron has been censured or rebuked by several organizations for his bad methodology in his studies and Rekers lost a lot of credibility for last year's scandal when he was caught coming from a European vacation with a "rentboy."

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Paul Cameron is an infamous anti-gay propagandist whose one-man statistical chop shop, the Family Research Institute, churns out hate literature masquerading as legitimate science. Cameron dresses up his “studies” with copious footnotes, graphs and charts, and then pays to publish them in certain journals. Cameron’s work has been rejected by both the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association, yet his ludicrous statistics are frequently referenced in sermons, news broadcasts, politicians’ speeches and even court decisions.


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