More on SCOTUS arguments

    1. More social science WEIRDness
    2. Rausch on 4 options, 4 problems


I commented earlier on the WEIRDness of our social sciences, and also of the willingness of social scientists to engage in conscious advocacy. Nelson Lund in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal goes into greater depth, specifically on the weakness of the numerous social science claims advanced to support same-sex marriage:

A significant number of organizations representing social and behavioral scientists have filed briefs promising the court that there is nothing to worry about. These assurances have no scientific foundation. Same-sex marriage is brand new, and child rearing by same-sex couples remains rare. Even if both phenomena were far more common, large amounts of data collected over decades would be required before any responsible researcher could make meaningful scientific estimates of the long-term effects of redefining marriage.
The conclusions in the research literature typically amount at best to claims that a particular study found “no evidence” of bad effects from child rearing by same-sex couples. One could just as easily say that there is no reliable evidence that such child-rearing practices are beneficial or harmless. And that is the conclusion that should be relevant to the court.

He goes into more detail after that introduction. And of the relative merits of Mark Regnerus’ study versus those of the friends of SSM:

There has been only one study using a large randomized sample, objective measures of well-being, and reports of grown children rather than their parents. This research, by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas Austin, found that children raised in a household where a parent was involved in a same-sex romantic relationship were at a significant disadvantage with respect to a number of indicators of well being—such as depression, educational attainment and criminal behavior—compared with children of intact biological families.
One might expect this work at least to raise a caution flag, but it has been vociferously attacked on methodological grounds by the same organizations that tout the value of politically congenial research that suffers from more severe methodological shortcomings. This is what one expects from activists, not scientists.

(Emphasis added)

Of course, the lack of evidence only matters if you assume that overturning a universal historic insight requires more than the mantra of “equality.” But the left only calls for advance evidence of safety on important things like food additives.


Jonathan Rausch, probably the most irenic of same-sex marriage supporters, fairly dispassionately reviews Tuesday’s Supreme Court  arguments at Brookings:

The court just didn’t have enough clear law to decide the questions before it. So it had to do what the Supreme Court must do, and indeed should, when law can’t settle the problem. It openly considered the political consequences of its decisions.

Rausch discerns four positions, and four potential outcomes, along with the political consequences of each. It’s a pretty good synthesis.

I’m with number 2, the rational basis argument:

The debate about gay equality is ongoing, especially with regards to marriage. The country is still making up its mind. It’s premature for the Supreme Court to jump in and take the decision out of the political process.

The problem with which, according to Rausch, is:

No. 2 is too narrow. It implies that the voters can treat gay people just about as badly as they please, at least if they can cite a tradition of treating them badly in the past ….

The court can revisit “how badly voters can treat gay people” when presented with a case where the voters did something worse than overruling their rulers and restoring the status quo ante.

If California has a referendum process for voters overruling their rulers, it is Kafkaesque to suggest that since the rulers “don’t like the result of a voter initiative [and almost by definition they don’t], they could subvert it by defending it badly, baiting a court to overturn it, and then choosing not to appeal.”

That’s what the argument against standing to defend Proposition 8 (Rausch’s No. 4) amount to. I’m astonished at the docility of Californians as their rulers refuse to defend the law the voters adopted, but it may be better than letting those rulers throw yet another round in the Supreme Court.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.