Panel supports gay parents

Experts speak out ahead of same-sex marriage trial

December 01, 2006|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Just days before Maryland's highest court hears arguments over whether the state's gay men and lesbians have the right to wed, a group of sociologists, psychologists and child-welfare advocates spoke out yesterday in support of same-sex marriage.

They said they based their support on years of scientific research concluding that gays and lesbians can be as effective parents as heterosexuals and that the children of gay parents develop just as well as children of opposite-sex couples.

"There is absolutely no scientific basis for legal discrimination against gay and lesbian couples and families regarding their rights to parent and marry as everyone else does," said Ruth Fassinger, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland during a news conference held at the Baltimore headquarters of the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, which will be heard Monday by the Court of Appeals, said they organized the discussion to try to debunk what they say are myths portrayed by those opposed to same-sex marriage.

"Opponents of marriage for same-sex couples have distorted the science in order to justify discriminatory rules for marriage and suggest that discrimination is necessary to protect children," said David Rocah, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland and one of the lawyers representing the gay and lesbian plaintiffs.

"Social studies research demonstrates exactly the opposite."

Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokesperson for conservative group Focus on the Family, which opposes gay marriage, disagreed.

"There are hundreds of studies that find that ideally children do best raised by a biological mom and dad," she said.

"What they are doing is taking some very untested, unreplicated studies and trying to say that equals the mounds of research that shows otherwise."

Those who spoke at the news conference represented such professional organizations as the American Psychological Association and the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, which have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in the case.

The 19 gay and lesbian couples in the case are hoping to overturn Maryland's marriage law, which defines marriage as an institution between a man and woman. Maryland's lawsuit is one of a handful of similar cases being battled out in high courts around the country.

"The public has these misconceptions about same-sex couples, and they have fears that really need to be addressed and one of them is about children being around gay people," said Daphne McClellan, executive director of the Maryland Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. "The point we are trying to make is gay and lesbian couples really aren't very different at all."

Susan Leviton, founder of Advocates for Children and Youth, said denying same-sex marriage does children harm because they are not entitled to the same legal protections as children of married parents.

In a same-sex household, if a child's biological parent dies, there are no legal guarantees that the non-biological partner will receive custody and that the child will receive inheritance or Social Security survivors benefits, she said.

"They are denied the dignity and respect that comes with a legally recognized family unit," she said. "The state shouldn't treat committed couples as legal strangers, especially when you're raising children."

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