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Baehr v. Miike

Both Sides Marshal Their Experts

The first of the state's four expert witnesses was Kyle D. Pruett, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in child development. Pruett had conducted a ten-year study, beginning in 1981, in which he assessed the development of children raised primarily by their fathers in an intact, two-parent household of the traditional kind. His study produced significant findings to uphold the notion that the best possible environment in which to raise a child was one in which two biological parents remained married. Yet he also stated that same-sex parents can and do raise emotionally healthy children, an observation garnered from his own clinical experience, and he believed that same-sex couples should be able to adopt children. If two parents provided a child with a nurturing environment, he indicated, this was a more important factor in their development than the genders of the two parents in question.

The state next called David Eggebeen, Ph.D., a sociologist whose work focused on demographic issues relating to families and children. Families were changing, Dr. Eggebeen testified: the marriage rate was going down, along with the birth rate; but the median age of marriage for women was rising, as was the divorce rate, the number of young adults living together outside of marriage, the birth rate for unwed mothers, and the number of women in the labor force. Nonetheless, six out of ten children were still being raised in homes with both biological parents, and Eggebeen testified that children raised in a single-parent home are at a "heightened risk" for problems such as poor grades and teenage pregnancy. Step-parents were no substitute for biological parents, he held, and a same-sex marriage--where obviously at least one of the parents had no biological relation to the child--was equivalent to a step-parent situation. Yet there were exceptions to this proposition, and Eggebeen agreed that same-sex parents ought to be able to adopt children. He also testified that children of same-sex marriages would benefit if their parents received the legal privileges that went with legal union, including income tax advantages, public assistance, enforcement of alimony and child support, inheritance rights, and the right to prosecute wrongful death actions.

Judge Chang found the third witness to be problematic. Richard Williams, Ph.D., was a psychologist specializing in statistical analysis, but he questioned many of the basic precepts governing the discipline of psychology. He held that the majority of studies in the social sciences had inherent flaws of theory and methodology, and therefore Judge Chang did not place much weight on his contentions regarding studies of same-sex parents. "At times," Chang wrote, "Dr. Williams expressed severe views. For instance, Dr. Williams believes that there is no scientific proof that evolution occurred." Moreover, Williams "admitted that his critique of studies regarding gay and lesbian parenting is a minority position."

Finally, the state called Thomas S. Merrill, Ph.D., a psychologist whose areas of expertise included human development, gender development, and relationships relevant to the development of children. Merrill had limited clinical experience with gay and lesbian parents, however, and he offered no opinion as to the development of children in families with parents of the same sex. However, he did testify that the sexual orientation of a parent is not an indicator of that person's fitness as a parent, and that same-sex couples with children do manage to be successful parents.

Given that the burden of proof was on the defendant, the plaintiffs were under no requirement to produce experts of their own. Nonetheless, they called four as well: Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D.; Charlotte Patterson, Ph.D.; David Brodzinsky, Ph.D.; and Robert Bidwell, M.D. The court cited the testimonies of Drs. Schwartz and Brodzinsky as "especially credible." The former, a sociologist with expertise in the areas of gender, sexuality, and the human family, held that the nurturing relationship between parent and child was more important to the child's development than either the parenting structure or biology. Brodzinsky, a psychologist whose focus was on adoption and other forms of non- biological parenting, Judge Chang wrote, "expressed his strong view regarding the issue of whether there is a best family environment [in which] to raise children." Answering a question on his view' regarding the state's position that "we somehow need to identify a best family for children," Brodzinsky replied, "I find that offensive truthfully." He called this idea "a distortion of the research literature."

In his Specific Findings with regard to the case, Judge Chang found that the defendant had failed to provide sufficient evidence to establish any of his claims. From the testimony of his experts--not to mention those of the plaintiffs--it seemed clear that the nurturing relationship was more important than the structure of the marriage; that a parent's sexual orientation was not necessarily an indicator of his or her ability to raise children; and that gay parents could raise children as happy and well-adjusted as those of their heterosexual counterparts. Furthermore, gay and lesbian couples in Hawaii were already allowed to adopt children and provide foster care. Far from proving the defendant's contention that same-sex marriage would adversely effect children, Judge Chang held, the testimony had shown that those children would stand to gain if their parents were accorded the benefits associated with traditional marriages.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentBaehr v. Miike - Same Sex Marriages, The Burden Of Proof Is On The State, Both Sides Marshal Their Experts