March/April 2013 Issue • Volume 41 • Issue 3

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From the Executive Officer

Speaking for Science:
ASA Submits an Amicus Brief to the
U.S. Supreme Court

sally hillsman

Sally T. Hillsman,
ASA Executive

The Council of the American Sociological Association is elected by the membership (we have the highest voting participation of any scholarly association we know of!) to conduct the policy work of the Association in addition to its other duties. In 2001, Council established guidelines for making public statements on behalf of the Association. They include Council drawing upon the research expertise of members to review and assess the scholarly literature on the basis of which Council could act.

The Results Are Clear

Last month the ASA weighed in on two gay marriage cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, filing an amicus brief outlining social science research that shows overwhelmingly that “children fare just as well” when raised by same-sex or heterosexual parents. “The results of our review are clear,” said ASA President Cecilia Ridgeway in the press release accompanying the ASA’s submission to the court. “There is no evidence that children with parents in stable same-sex or opposite-sex relationships differ in terms of well-being. Indeed, the greater stability offered by marriage for same-sex as well as opposite-sex parents may be an asset for child well-being.”

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On March 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, challenging the decision of the California Supreme Court overturning Proposition 8 that revoked the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. On March 27, the Court heard arguments in United States v. Windsor that challenges the 1996 Congress’ Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages already legalized under the law of several states.

As ASA President Ridgeway indicated, “At issue at the heart of these cases is whether family composition, per se, affects the well-being of children and thus, provides a justification for limiting the right to marry. This core question is an empirical one and is the subject of a broad range of social science research. As a scientific body, ASA has a duty to provide the court with a systematic and balanced review of the evidence to assess what the consensus of scholarly research has shown.”

“When the social science evidence is exhaustively examined—which the ASA has done—the facts demonstrate that children fare just as well when raised by same-sex parents.”

The Opposition

In their briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives, which is defending DOMA, the Hollingsworth Petitioners, which are defending Proposition 8, and their respective supporters assert that children fare better with opposite-sex parents than with same-sex parents.

“When the social science evidence is exhaustively examined—which the ASA has done—the facts demonstrate that children fare just as well when raised by same-sex parents,” states the ASA amicus brief. “Unsubstantiated fears regarding same-sex child rearing do not overcome these facts and do not justify upholding DOMA and Proposition 8.” Wendy Diane Manning, Professor of Sociology, Director of the Center for Family & Demographic Research, and Co-Director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, led ASA’s examination of the social science evidence at the request of Council. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP of New York City served as pro bono counsel to the ASA on the brief.

Good Social Science

There are many who have not reviewed the social science literature who would like to contest this conclusion. Likewise, many of the amicus briefs filed in these cases present inaccurate interpretations or applications of good research, “apples and oranges” comparisons, and a variety of other obvious errors in support of their position that same-sex marriage is detrimental to the well-being of children. We hope that the justices (and others) will recognize that, whatever they decide about whether DOMA or state laws against gay marriage violate constitutional principles, the ASA amicus brief demonstrates that good social science does not support concern about the well-being of children when raised by gay or lesbian parents.

While it is entirely likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will not make sweeping decisions, especially in Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8), leaving the matter of same-sex marriage an open issue in some states, the ASA amicus brief will remain an important part of the cited legal literature in this still emerging area of state and federal law. That is a considerable contribution! The discipline has made and will continue to make an important contribution to the issue of gay marriage. This means that any future attempts to misconstrue the state of social science research on this issue in the courts will have to face the challenge of refuting the science in the ASA amicus brief.

Sally T. Hillsman is the Executive Officer of ASA. She can be reached by email at


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