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Expert testimony before a Hawaiian court

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The Hawaii Same-sex Marriage Trial:

In 1990, three same-sex couples, Ninia Baehr, Genora Dancel, Tammy Rodrigues, Antoinette Pregil, Pat Lagon and Joseph Melilio, applied for marriage licenses from the State of Hawaii. They were refused. They then challenged the state's decision in court. Eventually, the Hawaiian Supreme Court found that the state had violated the anti-sexism clauses in its constitution. They assigned to the Circuit Court the task of determining if same-sex marriages were against the best interests of society. The State argued that:

bulletGays or lesbians in committed relationships make inferior parents; the best way to assure that children get the best possible upbringing is to require spouses to be of different genders.
bulletRaising a child in a home with gay or lesbian parents in effect punishes the child, presumably because they would be exposed to the hatred of gays and lesbians by homophobic people.

These same two arguments often appear whenever same-sex marriages is debated.

The State was at a severe disadvantage during the trial, because all of the expert witnesses, both for the plaintiffs and the defense said that gay and lesbian couples are as fit and as loving as opposite sex couples. None of the witnesses for the defense were able to demonstrate that harm would come to Hawaii if it recognized same-sex marriages.

On 1996-DEC-3, Judge Kevin Chang issued a ruling. He had determined that the State of Hawaii failed to show a "compelling state interest" to justify their continuation of the ban against same-sex marriages. He wrote:

"There certainly is a benefit to children which comes from being raised by their mother and father in an intact and relatively stress-free home. However, there is a diversity in the structure and configuration of families...In Hawaii, and elsewhere, children are being raised by their natural parents, single parents, step-parents, grandparents, adopted parents, hanai [adoptive] parents, foster parents, gay and lesbian parents, and same-sex couples...There are also families in Hawaii, and elsewhere, which do not have children...The evidence presented by [the] plaintiffs and defendant establishes that the single most important factor in the development of a happy, healthy and well-adjusted child is the nurturing relationship between parent and child." 1

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The Hawaii same-sex marriage trial: Defendant's witnesses

Part IV of Judge Chang's ruling described testimony from four expert witnesses for the State in opposition to same-sex marriage:

  1. Kyle D. Pruett, M.D.: Dr. Pruett is a psychiatrist who specialized in child development. He conducted a 10 year longitudinal study of 15 families starting in 1981. All had heterosexual parents. He found that:
    bulletChildren raised by families with primarily paternal care in the early months and years of life are competent and robust in their development
    bulletThere were unique "paternal contributions" made by the father, but that these were relatively small in comparison to the contributions of both parents
    bulletThe contributions made solely by the father in heterosexual families are not necessary for a child to become happy, healthy and well-adjusted.
    bulletThe child might receive little information about the gender that is not represented by his/her parents in a same-sex partnership.
    bulletSingle parents, gay fathers, lesbian mothers and same-sex couples have the potential to, and often do, raise children that are happy, healthy and well-adjusted.
    bulletIn general, gay and lesbian parents are as fit and loving parents as non-gay persons and couples.
  2. David Eggebeen, Ph.D. Dr. Eggebeen is a sociologist with expertise in family demographics. He testified that:
    bulletIn 1990, 60% of children were living in families with two married spouses who are the child's biological parents.
    bulletAbsence of the intent or the ability to have children does not weaken the institution of marriage.
    bulletChildren with a step-parent or with a single parent do not do as well on average as do children with both biological parents present.
    bulletHe reasoned that a same-sex couple might be at a similar disadvantage.
    bulletHe conceded that a same-sex couple who were both involved in the birth(s) might not behave like a classic step-parent couple.
    bulletHe testified that single parents, adoptive parents, lesbian mothers, gay fathers and same-sex couples can create stable family environments and raise healthy and well-adjusted children.
    bulletHe testified that cohabiting same-sex couples are less stable than married couples. This conclusion was based on a book "American Couples" which was co-authored by one of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses. It was based on 20 year old data.
    bulletHe stated that children of same-sex couples would be helped if they received the social status and the benefits of marriage.
  3. Richard Williams, Ph.D. Dr. Williams is a psychologist with expertise in research methods. He reviewed over 20 studies of children raised by gay and lesbian parents. He selected 9 to critique. He found that, in general, existing studies are flawed by their small sample size, non-representative sampling of each type of parent, and lack of similarity between comparison groups of parents. Judge Chang found Dr. Williams' testimony to be "not persuasive or believable" because of the his obvious bias against social sciences. Even assuming that research studies are conducted properly, Dr. Williams still doubts the ultimate value of psychology and other social sciences. He did admit that he is in a minority position.
  4. Thomas S. Merrill, Ph D. Dr. Merrill is a psychologist with expertise in child development. He has had little direct experience with same-gender couples. He testified that:
    bulletHe first examined the issue of same-sex parenting in preparing for his testimony in this case
    bulletThere is insufficient information regarding the effects on a child of being raised by gay or lesbian parents
    bulletHe has no opinion regarding the development of children in a family with same-sex parents.
    bulletChildren thrive best in a family where there is a limited amount of strife, a maximum amount of nurturing and guidance, and a very strong and intimate bond between parents and child.
    bulletThe sexual orientation of a parent is not an indication of parental fitness.
    bulletGay and lesbian couples with children do have successful relationships.
    bulletChildren should not be denied benefits (e.g. health care, education, housing) on the basis of their parent's status.

The witnesses for the defense seem to imply that, on average, a gay or lesbian parenting couple might have to try harder than a heterosexual couple who are both genetically linked to their children. They also seemed to imply that it would be beneficial to the children if their same-sex parents were allowed to marry, and benefit from the social standing and support plans given to married couples. The state's case appeared to be extremely weak, even non-existent. Their witnesses appeared to give effective testimony in favor of the plaintiffs.

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The Hawaii same-sex marriage trial: Plaintiffs' witnesses

Part V of Judge Chang's described testimony from four expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in support of same-sex marriage:

  1. Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D Dr. Schwartz is a sociologist with special expertise in gender and human sexuality, same-sex relations in parenting, etc. Judge Chang found her testimony to be "especially credible," being based on "significant research and analysis." She testified that:
    bulletHer book, which was referred to by one of the defendant's witnesses, is based on old data. There are many trends within the homosexual community and society in general that make the book's conclusions invalid today.
    bulletBoth heterosexual and homosexual couples want to get married. "They want companionship, they want love, they want trust, they want someone who will be with them through thick and thin. They're looking for a live and a love partner."
    bulletThe sexual orientation of parents is not an indicator of parental fitness. Gay and lesbian parents and same-sex couples are as fit and loving parents, as non-gay persons and different-sex couples.
    bulletThe primary quality of parenting is not the parenting structure, or biology, but is the nurturing relationship between parent and child.
    bulletChildren should not be denied benefits and protections because of their parents' status
    bullet"There would be no dishonor and no ultimate fragility to the institution [of marriage] by including gays and lesbians."
    bulletMarriage should be an option available for all families.
  2. Charlotte Patterson, Ph.D. Dr. Patterson is a psychologist with expertise in lesbian and gay parenting and the child development within such families. She has completed two studies of such children:
    bulletThe Bay Area Family Study (1990-1) examined 37 families with at least one child between 4 and 9. Some were in the "test" group: children born to women who identified themselves as lesbians during the study. Others were in the control group: children born to women who had adopted children early in life. The researchers concluded:
    bulletThe children of lesbian mothers appeared to be developing normally.
    bulletChildren of the test group more often felt symptoms of stress in their lives. But they also said that they felt an overall sense of well-being
    bulletThe sample group of lesbian mothers differed from other mothers in America in terms of ethnic background, education, income, and other socioeconomic factors. Most were White, well-educated, and above average in income.
    bulletThe Contemporary Family Study (mainly 1994-5) examined 80 families who used artificial insemination and who had at least one child that was at least 5 years of age. 55 families were headed by lesbian mothers; 25 by heterosexual parents. They concluded:
    bulletThe children in both groups were developing normally
    bulletSexual orientation of the parents did not predict their child's well-being and adjustment
    bulletIrrespective of their parents' sexual orientation, children who live in a harmonious family environment had better reports from parents and teachers.

    Dr. Patterson testified on the basis of her and other studies. She said that:

    bulletThe quality of parenting which a child receives is more important than a biological connection or the gender of a parent.
    bulletThere is no data or research which establishes that gay fathers and lesbian mothers are less capable of being good parents
    bulletGay and lesbian people and same-sex couples are as fit and loving parents as non-gay people and different-sex couples.
    bulletSame-sex couples can, and do, have successful, loving and committed relationships.
    bulletThere is no reason related to the promotion of the development of children why same-sex couples should not be permitted to marry.
  3. David Brodzinsky, Ph.D Dr. Brodzinsky is a psychologist with expertise in the development of children raised by nonbiological parents. Judge Chang found his testimony to be especially credible" and based firmly on his "clinical and professional experience." Brodzinsky has worked with about 40 families headed by same-sex parents and same-sex couples. He testified:
    bulletThe important factors which determine good child development are whether the child is provided warmth, consistency of care, a stimulated environment, and support.
    bullet"Structural factors" (whether single parent or two parent; biological or non-biological) pale in comparison.
    bulletSame-sex parents should be eligible to be evaluated for adoptions because they are able to provide warm and loving environments.
    bulletSexual orientation of parents is not an indicator of parental fitness.
    bulletChildren adopted by same-sex couples are not at any increased risk for behavioral or psychological problems.
    bulletThere is no reason related to the promotion of the development of children why same-sex couples should not be permitted to marry.
  4. Robert Bidwell, M.D. Dr. Bidwell is a Pediatrician with specialized expertise in adolescent medicine. He has treated children from hundreds of gay and lesbian families. He testified that:
    bulletThe best environment for a child is one with "love and nurturance and guidance, protection, safety."
    bulletGay and lesbian parents and same-sex couples raise children that are just as healthy and well-adjusted as those raised by different-sex couples.
    bulletSome children with same-sex parents have experienced embarrassment, distress or a "difficult time" because their family "is not the same as the majority of families that surround them." However, this is a passing phase. It causes pain, but the experience typically creates strength and promotes growth.
    bulletMarriage of their parents would benefit the children of same-sex parents

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The Hawaii Same-sex Marriage Trial: Judge Chang's Findings

Some of Judge Chang's findings include:

bulletThe State did not show that any adverse consequences to the public would result from same-sex marriage.
bulletThe State did not show that "traditional marriage" should be protected in its present form.
bulletChildren benefit from being raised by their mother and father in an intact and relatively stress free home. However, in Hawaii and elsewhere, children are being raised in many different types of families.
bulletThe most important factor in child development is the nurturing relationship between parent and child.
bulletSexual orientation of parents is not in and of itself an indicator of parental fitness. "Gay and lesbian parents and same-sex couples have the potential to raise children that are happy, healthy and well-adjusted...Gay and lesbian parents and same-sex couples can be as fit and loving parents, as non-gay men and women and different-sex couples."
bulletChildren of gay and lesbian parents and same-sex couples may experience symptoms of stress but that the data indicates that they tend to adjust and do develop-in a normal fashion.
bulletAllowing gays and lesbians to marry may be help the children because of protections and benefits which are given to married couples.
bullet"In Hawaii, and elsewhere, same-sex couples can, and do, have successful, loving and committed relationships." Many want to marry for the same reasons as heterosexual couples do.

Judge Chang found the ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and ordered that the State stop refusing to issue marriage licenses on the basis of the applicant's gender.

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  1. Judge Kevin Chang's ruling was at http://www.ftm.org/archive/chang-ruling.txt It seems to be no longer available online.
  2. D'Augelli & Patterson, Eds.,  "Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Identities Across the Lifespan: Psychological Perspectives," Oxford University Press, (1995).
  3. Laird & Green, Eds., "Lesbians and gays in couples and families," Jossey-Bass, (1996).
  4. Savin-Williams & Cohen, Eds., "The lives of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals," Harcourt Brace, (1996).

Copyright © 1998, 1999 & 2002 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated: 2002-JAN-5

Author: B.A. Robinson

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