Gerry Shih on yesterday's session focusing on whether homosexuality is a choice:
With testimony in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial expected to end by the middle of next week, the discussion Friday centered again on the question of whether sexuality is an innate trait or something that can change, and possibly be controlled. On Friday, lawyers for those who seek to overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state, called as their final witness Gregory M. Herek, a research psychologist at the University of California, Davis.
In a recent survey he conducted, 88 percent of gay men and 68 percent of lesbians said they felt they had no choice about their sexual orientation, Dr. Herek said. For the vast majority of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, he said, “they have experienced no choice or very little choice.” He said that terms such as homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual may be oversimplified labels, and offered a complex definition of homosexuality.
Dr. Herek noted that “most people display consistency in their attractions and behaviors,” but he added, “We do see some examples where some people express attraction but do not have the sexual behavior.”
The defense questioned Dr. Herek about the reliability of research in the area of homosexuality. Under cross-examination by Howard C. Nielson Jr. of the defense team, Dr. Herek noted that the definition of sexual orientation has been keenly debated within academic circles.
Dr. Herek said that by 1975, both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association had removed homosexuality from any list of mental disorders.
Update | 5:11 p.m. For four hours on Friday afternoon, Howard C. Nielson Jr., a defense lawyer, and Dr. Gregory M. Herek continued to delve into issues surrounding the definition and variability of sexual orientation.
By arguing that homosexuality is a choice, the defense hopes to weaken the plaintiffs’ portrayal of gay marriage as a civil right that should not be denied to a minority group.
Margot Talbot on Wednesday's session on the "harm" marriage equality causes straight marriage:
One of the key points that the lawyers defending Proposition 8 are trying to make is that allowing same-sex marriage necessarily harms marriages between men and women. When you think about it, this is a pretty difficult argument to give substance to: How would the harm be wrought, exactly? Would heterosexual couples in love and in the fevered grip of wedding plans and planners decided to boycott marriage if gay couples across the country could marry? Or does it somehow just tarnish the institution by association—in which case I think you have a plausible argument that the fear of harm is based on prejudice towards gays and lesbians—the legally (and morally) problematic “irrational animus.” Last week, one of the lawyers cross-examining a witness for the Olson and Boies team seemed to be trying to build a case that homosexual couples were less likely to be monogamous, and that in itself would undermine the institution of marriage. But of course, many heterosexual husbands and wives commit adultery. We don’t prevent, say, hot celebrities or libidinous politicians from marrying, even though they might be more likely to fool around than some of us.
This week, the anti-gay marriage side is stressing a different mechanism of harm. It came up yesterday afternoon, while the defense’s lead lawyer, Charles Cooper, was questioning the plaintiffs’ witness M.V. Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. According to Lisa Leff of the AP, “Cooper spent several hours with Badgett trying to demonstrate that traditional male-female marriages suffered after same-sex marriages became legal in the Netherlands in 2001. He introduced a number of charts showing divorce and single parenthood rates increased while marriage rates fell in that country.”
As it happens, this is an interpretation of the facts with a checkered history behind it.
In the early 2000s, a researcher named Stanley Kurtz started publishing work that purportedly showed a connection between the legalization of same-sex marriage or partnership in Scandinavian countries and a decline in the heterosexual marriage rate. Kurtz’s work was widely cited by proponents of traditional marriage ... Kurtz saw the Scandinavian marriage stats in a dark, even doomsday, light. As he wrote in The National Review on-line in 2004 “At issue in the gay-marriage controversy is nothing less than the existence of marriage itself… if there is one thing I think I’ve established in my recent writing on Scandinavia, it is that marriage can die—and is in fact dying—somewhere in the world. In fact, marriage is dying in the very same place that first recognized gay marriage.”
Now, there’s no doubt that the rates of marriage have been falling throughout the Western world. Meanwhile, the age at first marriage has gone up, as have the rates of cohabitation and and out-of-wedlock child bearing. But all of these are trends that long precede the legalization of single-sex marriage, and that generally hold as true for countries without legalized same-sex marriage or the equivalent as they do for those with it. As statistics from, for example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.) show, the marriage rate has been declining in almost all E.U. countries since 1970. And in fact, according to a 2008 O.E.C.D. report, the pace of decline has actually slowed since the nineteen-ninteties, “and the downward trend” nearly “come to a halt in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, the Slovak republic, and Sweden.”
Badgett, who writes sympathetically about economic dimensions of life for gays and lesbians, did some of the research countering Kurtz’s claims. In 2004, she wrote in an article for Slate that “Danish heterosexual marriage rates are now the highest they’ve been since the early nineteen-seventies. And the most recent marriage rates in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland are all higher than the rates for the years before the partner laws were passed.” Now of course this does not imply—nor does Badgett argue—a causal relationship in the other direction: that the existence of same-sex union has encouraged opposite sex ones. It’s just that it does undermine Kurtz’s argument: namely, that there is a causal relationship between the legalization of same-sex unions and a decreased willingness for heterosexual couples to tie the knot.
So far, by the way, Canada, where same-sex marriage was legalized across the country in 2005, seems to be showing similar trends. Marriage rates are down—but down over a much longer curve of time. (The peak number of marriages was in 1972.) Clearly, the reasons for the decline in the heterosexual marriage rate are manifold, but you’d probably be better off starting with an explanation like greater opportunities for sexual freedom and economic independence, especially for women, outside of marriage, than with gay couples wanting in on it.