Monday, November 17, 2008

Making a Family

Even as Floridians rallied this weekend for the rights for same-sex couples to marry, a trial has been going on in Miami-Dade County to determine if a gay couple can adopt children.

In a one-week trial peppered with words like ”null hypothesis,” ”central limit theorem” and ”Pearson correlation,” a half-dozen experts in psychology, epidemiology, sociology and family studies presented starkly different views on whether gay men and women can be as good at parenting as straight people. The trial, which ran Oct. 1-6, was closed to the public, but The Miami Herald has obtained a transcript of the testimony.

Florida law bans gays from adopting. Valerie J. Martin, a Florida assistant attorney general who defended the statute, said same-sex couples are at far greater risk of many social ills, and ”putting children who are already at risk into such a household would increase the stressors that these children already experience as a result of their placement in foster care.”

Countered Leslie Cooper, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the foster father: ”We heard, over the course of this trial, heaps and heaps of scientific evidence about gay parents and gay people. There is absolutely no reasonable scientific dispute on the subject of whether children who are raised by gay parents are disadvantaged in any way.”

The judge’s ruling will determine whether a 4-year-old boy and his 8-year-old brother can be adopted by Frank Gill, the North Miami foster parent who has raised the boys for four years, and his partner. Lederman said she will decide on the adoption later this month.

Florida is the only state that bans all gay people from adopting. This fall, a Circuit Court judge in Key West declared Florida’s ban unconstitutional, although the decision is unlikely to hold much sway because it was not appealed to a higher court. Since the state is fighting Gill’s attempt to adopt the two boys, a decision by Lederman to declare the law unconstitutional would be of far greater consequence.

Most likely, the case will ultimately be decided by the Third District Court of Appeal or the Florida Supreme Court.

To bolster its case, the state brought in a crew of experts in child psychology.

At trial, the state’s defense of the adoption law rested on the shoulders of two scholars — George A. Rekers, a retired professor from the University of South Carolina, who taught neuropsychiatry and behavioral science, and Walter R. Schumm, an assistant professor of family studies at Kansas State University.

Rekers and Schumm argued that lawmakers were justified in excluding gay people from adoption because research shows that they are at greater risk of developing a host of impairments that can harm children, such as mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, and the virus that causes AIDS.

Schumm testified that, based on research involving 2,847 children, the children of gay men and lesbians are far more likely to also become gay — about 19 percent of children raised by gay parents, compared with 4 percent of children with straight parents.

Schumm said he was also concerned by a study that said that 47 percent of gay teenagers had seriously considered suicide, and that 36 percent had attempted it. ”If a child is gay, lesbian or bisexual, this is, in some sense, a life-threatening issue,” he said.

Gay men and lesbians have two to four times the likelihood of suffering from major depression, anxiety or substance abuse, based on several national studies, Rekers testified. Gay men, he said, are four times more likely than straight men to attempt suicide.

However, under cross examination, it turns out that these experts have an agenda. Yep, you guessed it: they’re shills for the Religious Reich.

Under cross-examination, Rekers, who also has a theology degree, acknowledged that he taught and practiced psychology from a Christian perspective, and had written books condemning social science that doesn’t recognize ”the moral laws of God.”

”To search for truth about homosexuality in psychology and psychiatry, while ignoring God, will result in futile and foolish speculations,” Rekers wrote in a 1982 book.

In 2003, Schumm also said in a scholarly article that social science could be used to spread the word of God. ”With respect to integration of faith and research, I have been trying to use statistics to highlight the truth of the Scripture,” he wrote.

One of Gill’s experts, Susan D. Cochran, a professor of epidemiology and statistics at UCLA, accused Schumm of cooking some of the data he used to bolster his argument. ”This is taught in first-year statistics,” Cochran testified. ”I was surprised he would do that.”

And one of Gill’s attorneys, James Esseks, criticized Rekers for relying on the scholarly work of Paul Cameron, chairman of the Family Research Institute, who was dropped from the American Psychological Association in 1983 after he declined to cooperate with an investigation into whether he had distorted research on gay people.

Is it any wonder that gay people feel marginalized by society when you have people like Mr. Rekers and an entire industry of radio and TV preachers, not to mention a core of the base of a major political party, doing everything they possibly can to reduce you second class citizenship and use you as a piñata for all the perceived ills in the world? Even if you accept the numbers about the higher incidences of drug and alcohol abuse, depression and suicide in the LGBTQ community — and I find those numbers highly suspect anyway — don’t you think that the vituperation directed at the LGBTQ community from these self-appointed ministers of faux-morality might have something to do with it?

Perhaps if the fundamentalists followed their prophet and preached a little more tolerance and support for a family regardless of how its formed, and perhaps if the state of Florida joined the 20th century and removed the Nuremberg-style law that singles out gays as pariahs when it comes to adoption, those of us in the LGBTQ community might feel more like we actually belong to society and not try to escape from the hatred, prejudice, and the little everyday reminders that we don’t count. People like Frank Gill are heroes for fighting the intolerance, but more importantly, they are miracle workers for the simple act of raising a child in a loving and giving home. And that’s really the most important thing.