Another judge has ruled DOMA unconstitutional. Last week, US District Court Judge Jeffrey White found in Golinski v. OPM, that the federal government's refusal to extend spousal health care benefits to the same-sex spouse of federal employee Karen Golinski violates her right to Equal Protection.
As is necessary in any Equal Protection case, the court needed to determine what level of scrutiny to apply. This court applied heightened scrutiny, finding that the denial of federal recognition to the marriage of same-sex couples needed to be at least substantially related to an important governmental objective. And as we have come to expect, the defenders of DOMA (not the Obama administration which refuses to defend it, but a group of members of Congress) always argue something about protecting the well-being of children. Well once again child development expert Michael Lamb stepped up to defend the equal ability of gay men and lesbians to raise children. In my favorite line of the opinion, the court noted that "the evidence presented by Professor Lamb demonstrates that parents' genders are irrelevant to children's developmental outcomes."
I love this sentence, and not only on behalf of same-sex couples raising children. The right wing "marriage movement" has been asserting for the better part of the last two decades that the decline of life-long heterosexual marriage endangers children precisely because they need to be raised by their married, biological, mother and father. Dr. Lamb's conclusion from the research shows that argument for what it is -- an empty pronouncement that distracts attention from meeting the real needs of children. "There is...no empirical support for the notion that the presence of both male and female role models in the home promotes children's adjustment or well-being," Dr. Lamb continued.
DOMA defenders unsuccesfully attacked the methodological validity of the research in this area. They submitted three articles -- none from peer-reviewed journals -- criticizing the studies Dr. Lamb relied upon. This flimsy response to the more than 50 peer-reviewed articles about research on children with lesbian or gay parents that Dr. Lamb relied upon was completely dismissed by the court.
Of course the court also pointed out that denial of federal benefits to same-sex spouses does nothing to change their status as parents under state law. It may just hurt children by denying their parents the privileges federal law bestows on married couples. This of course begs the question of why children's economic security should depend on whether their parents marry. But readers of this blog know full well that same-sex marriage litigation never questions the validity of granting benefits to married couples -- and their children -- that are denied to other family forms. No point expecting an opinion like Golinski to comment on that.
The court also went on to say that DOMA fails even rational basis review. Denial the federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples is not rationally related to the well-being of children. It does not change the recognition of gay people as parents; all is does is deny a couple federal benefits. To the argument made by "some people" that biological parents should be the preferred childrearers, the court points out that the law right now does not recognize a distinction among parents based on whether they are biologically related to their child. The court does not elaborate, but presumably the reference is to the full range of parents who lack that biological connection, including adoptive parents and parents who conceive using assisted reproduction. There are way more straight parents who fall into these categories than there will ever be gay parents.