Adam Polaski

WATCH: Franken Refutes Focus on the Family Claims

Filed By Adam Polaski | July 20, 2011 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Al Franken, DOMA repeal, Focus on the Family, Senate Judiciary Committee, Tom Minnery

ThinkProgressFranken.jpgThe Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing today regarding the Defense of Marriage Act is turning out some promising support for repeal of DOMA.

One small win came just a few hours ago, when Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) refuted a claim by Focus on the Family's Tom Minnery. Minnery had previously cited a study from the Department of Health and Human Services to indicate that children of opposite-sex married couples - biological or adoptive - experienced fewer problems. Minnery used the study to explain that these children were healthier, happier, had better access to health care, were less likely to suffer emotional problems, did better in school, and were better protected from emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Turns out, the study actually said that these characteristics were true of children in nuclear families, the definition of which includes same-sex married couples, too.

Watch the video, via ThinkProgress.

Excerpted Transcript:

Franken: "I checked the study out, and I'd like to enter it into the record that it actually doesn't say what you said it says. It says that nuclear families - not opposite-sex, married families - are associated with those positive outcomes. Isn't it true, Mr. Minnery, that a married same-sex couple that has had or adopted kids would fall under the definition of a nuclear family in the study that you cite?"

Minnery: "I would think that the study, when it cites nuclear families, would mean a family headed by a husband and wife."

Franken: "It doesn't. The study defines nuclear family as one or more children living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all of the children in the family. And I frankly don't really know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies these ways."


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Even as a Senator, Franken can still make people laugh. I sure did.

It would be interesting to find out whether the study in question actually included any pairs of same-sex parents ... even though the point is technically moot to the testimony given.

In any event ... Thank You, Sen. Al Franken, for being one of our advocates in Congress.

(P.S. Sen. Franken's comedic talent, which of course we already knew about so well, is so apparent if you watch the video -- he evokes laughter at totally ordinary words by delivering them with perfect comedic timing and inflection.)

I looked through the study and it has no indication of including or excluding same-sex parenting diads. Even opposite-sex parenting diads go without explicit mention. The only indication of parent gender is by way of a flashcard system they had for individuals to identify members of the family structure: "Spouse (husband/wife)" "unmarried partner". Respondents self-reported all family relationships, including who was their spouse and who was their partner.

Therefore, there is no evidence that the research differentiates married same-sex individuals from married opposite-sex ones, as Minnery attempts to state. Plausibly, a married same-sex couple could describe one another as their "spouse", "husband", or "wife" and be counted in the "nuclear family" group.

So while it is ambiguous whether the research excludes or includes same-sex couples, married or unmarried, it is absolutely false to state that the research concludes that "opposite-sex married traditional families" do better than all others. Franken's statement is correct in that it is a statement claiming that the study is ambiguous and no evidence in the literature suggests that same-sex couples are excluded from the findings about the "nuclear family" (or any other diad parenting familial category, for that matter). Minnery's statement is a clear extrapolation of a difference that does not appear in the literature as provided.

Now, if the authors were to come forward and say that all parents were heterosexual or opposite-sex attracted individuals only, then Minnery would be making a correct assumption, though his conclusion that the study (as it sits in his lap) makes this claim is false. Otherwise, the only factual statement the authors can make from their study is that there is no conclusive evidence of what effect same-sex parenting, married or unmarried, has on children's welfare.

Rachel Bellum | July 20, 2011 11:36 PM

Separating the effects of opposite sex parenting from same sex parenting would require large enough numbers sof each group to compare the results. Essentially either a large sample would need to be taken so each subgroup could be properly compared or a study targeted directly at this would need to be done.

Another potential discrepancy is the possibility of nuclear families with at least one transgender parent being included. Including the possiblity of families where one (or more) parents transitioned while raising children. Even if it was an opposite sex couple, I doubt they would be chosen as a "go to" example for a FoF representative.

I'm prepared to acccept that Minnery wasn't being purposefully deceptive. I'm sure the only thing that comes to his mind when he thinks about nuclear families are opposite sex (cis) couples and their children.

However, does anyone remember a recent report that children of lesbian couples were in some way either outperforming or better adjusted than all others? I can't remember the details.

Maybe only lesbian (I'm assuming cis and trans) couples should be allowed to marry. You know, for the sake of the children.

I do enjoy the Franken though.

I gather the purpose of the study was to compare child well-being between two-parent families and one-parent households or other family constellations. It was not designed to find or compare any difference in child well-being between same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents -- so it doesn't say anything about such differences, if indeed there are any.

As for Mr. Minnery ... he either "got it" when he read the study, and deliberately twisted the study findings to support his soap-box ... or he mis-read the study, in which case he was unintentionally lying to himself, mis-perceiving the study to find what he wanted it to find.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 20, 2011 5:10 PM

Suddenly, now that it can't possibly pass because Republicans control the House (because Democrats alienated everyone but bankers and the JCS) some Democrats are for repeal.

Where were they when they controlled both houses with commanding majorities? They were very busy killing single payer health care, passing out TARP trillions, busting the UAW and voting to pay for invading even more countries.

Even Obama, who knows he won't have to alienate catholic, baptist and mormons cultists by signing a repeal is tossing a few crumbs our way.

“I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.” Desmond Tutu