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The recent oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage have brought some attention to the sociological community. The primary reason for this unexpected consideration came from Justice Scalia, who commented during the hearing that “there’s considerable disagreement among sociologists” as to the consequences of same-sex parenting on children’s well-being.
Justice Scalia was mistaken in making this claim, because there is no such measure of disagreement among sociologists. Scalia’s comment was also without foundation in the evidence presented to him as a member of the Court for the one item that was submitted in the case concerning California’s Proposition 8 on behalf of sociologists came in the form of an amicus curiaebrief filed by the ASA, which argued that there is a “clear and consistent consensus” that children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well as others. And, in a letter in the Washington Post, the ASA Executive Officer similarly maintained that social science research “consistently and incontrovertibly” has shown that sexual orientation has no bearing on children’s well-being. (See. washingtonpost.com/2013-03-30/opinions/38140171_1_social-science-research-gay-parents-gay-marriage.)
Both the statements in the ASA amicus curiae brief and in the Washington Post letter are false for the straightforward fact that there is no such thing as undisputable evidence on any issue sociologists discuss. If there is one legitimate consensus about sociologists it is that dissent is the rule rather than the exception. The basis of the relative degree of agreement that exists among contemporary sociologists on same-sex relationships is a matter of convenience.
The inconsistencies in sociological research fueled the uproar over the research conducted by Mark Regnerus. Without taking up a position on the validity of this research, it is telling that the ASA amicus curiae brief devotes a large section to debunking the Regnerus research despite the fact that Regnerus himself wrote that his study was not intended to contribute to the legal debate on same-sex marriage. If anything, the ASA ought to have come to Regnerus’ defense to argue forcefully against those who misused and misrepresented his work.
Sociologists who attempt to pervert the academic quest for truth by adhering ideologically to a position of justice are not just political; they also, and more importantly, violate the central principle of academic work to not say anything unless we know what we are talking about. Sociologists cannot, by virtue of their expertise, take up any position on a non-academic matter and must remain cautious and modest about the validity and value of their research, not to mention that of others. In my own position that same-sex marriage should be allowed by developing appropriate legal norms, for example, I remain wholly unaffected by any factual evidence as well as the values others may hold. Rights are to be respected over and above facts and values alike.
The American Sociological Association has again revealed itself for what it primarily has become: an advocacy group interested in publicity rather than a professional group in pursuit of the search for truth. It is also primarily for this reason that I and a fair number of other sociologists are no longer members.
Mathieu Deflem, University of South Carolina, firstname.lastname@example.org