A Trial Full of Experts: Incredible and Not So Credible, In Hazel Park Case

In late October several hundred people gathered outside the courthouse in Detroit to await Judge Bernard Friedmans ruling. Judge Friedman decided to hear expert witnesses instead of ruling in a summary judgement which the state and the family were asking for. The trial begins on Feb. 25.

Judge Bernard Friedman is going to hear a lot of expert testimony as he faces the decision of whether a Hazel Park lesbian couple should be allowed to get married and allowed to jointly adopt each other's children.
April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse sued the State of Michigan and Oakland County for the right to second parent adoption, and later amended their suit to include same gender marriage. The case will go to trial beginning Feb. 25, with both sides bringing in expert witnesses.
The issue is not about whether the women, who are both nurses, are good parents. What is at issue is whether the state has an interest in banning second parent adoption and same gender marriage.

For The State

Although most research shows that there are no significant differences in children raised in homes with two parents of opposite gender parents and those with same gender parents, the State is relying on four experts who have made names for themselves by claiming otherwise.
In addition to conducting their work at the same time and citing each other, another thing the four witnesses for the State have in common is that conservatives have latched onto their work and used it as evidence that same-sex parenting is bad. Each of these State witnesses has also sought the limelight by being part of trials to suppress LGBT equality around the country.

Loren Marks works for the Louisiana State University School of Social Work, and he is best known for his criticism of the many studies that look at same gender parenting. He claims that the American Psychological Association is wrong for citing studies with less than 100 participants, although this is not uncommon in the world of research. Marks pre-released his study in order for it to be included in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court trial over the Defense of Marriage Act, and though he was scheduled to testify in favor of Prop. 8, he was not called because he had undermined his own testimony. Marks admitted that he had not read the studies that he cited in his own study, and he had written about those unread studies as "proof" that biological parents were better, when in fact the studies had actually included adoptive parents too.He did not look at any studies of gay and lesbian parents according to disposition transcripts.

Mark Regnerus is a sociologist at the University of Texas who conducted widely-criticized research called "New Family Structures Study" that looked at children in stable, long-term two parent homes compared to those in less-stable homes. Among the many flaws cited in his work is the fact that only two participants had been raised by same sex parents from birth, and that many of the children were raised in homes with a failed heterosexual relationship.

Douglas Allen is an economist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia who also makes ties between same sex parenting and childhood instability by looking at couples from unstable homes and comparing them to those who have been raised consistently by two heterosexual parents. The problem with his work stems from the fact that he did not find same sex parents in long-term relationships to use in his own research. Instead, Allen takes a 2010 study by Michael Rosenfeld, which was based off the U.S. Census, and re-examines it by adding in the outliers. "We re-examine Rosenfeld's (2010) study on the association between child outcomes and same-sex family structure. Using the same data set, we replicate and generalize Rosenfeld's findings and show that the implications of his study are different when using either alternative comparison groups or alternative sample restrictions. Compared with traditional married households, we find that children being raised by same-sex couples are 35 percent less likely to make normal progress through school; this difference is statistically significant at the one percent level," states the brief for Allen's report.

Joseph Price is also closely tied to the other three State witnesses. The economics professor from Brigham Young University worked with Price to re-hash Rosenfeld's work. Price also did his own study that refutes the generally-accepted estimates about the number of people who are gay or bisexual.
Rosenfeld has spoken out against the misconstruing of his work, and is in fact going to testify as an expert for the plaintiffs in the DeBoer case.

For The Family

To counter the State's witnesses, the plaintiffs are bringing in a slate of experts from around the country, as well as Michigan residents who grew up in same-gender parent households, to show that a loving home with two moms or two dads is just as good of an environment for children.

Dr. David Brodzinsky is a psychologist in the San Francisco Bay area. His research and scholarly writings have focused on psychological issues in gay and lesbian parenting and adoption, adoption and foster care, stress and coping in children, non-traditional family life, child custody issues, and children's cognitive development. He was a founding director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York and currently serves as the Research Director of the Institute's West Coast Office. He has testified in a number of nationally prominent cases, including the Baby M contested adoption case in New Jersey, the Baby Jessica contested adoption case in Michigan, the Woody Allen and Mia Farrow contested adoption and custody case in New York, and the gay marriage trial in Hawaii.

Dr. Nancy Cott is a Professor of American History at Harvard University. She specializes in the history of gender and sexuality. Dr. Cott is one of the nation's foremost experts on the institution of marriage, having testified for the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 trial and also in the DOMA case. She will testify to the evolution of marital law, both nationally and in the state of Michigan and how traditional gender roles have changed over time. Her testimony will be used to counter the state's contention that the purpose behind marriage is procreation. She will discuss the trend towards inclusion and gender-neutral laws pertaining to marriage and marital property as well as the important differences between a civil and religious marriage.

Dr. Gary J. Gates serves as the Williams Distinguished Scholar at the Charles R. Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law. His doctoral dissertation included the first significant research study using U.S. Census data to explore characteristics of same-sex couples. Dr. Gates has become a nationally recognized expert witness in several high-profile cases involving LGBT issues. He wrote a brief in support of the plaintiffs in the DOMA case in February 2013. He has also testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and before the U.S. Senate on LGBT inclusion in federal immigration law reforms. Dr. Gates will be testifying regarding various demographic trends involving LGBT individuals and couples and their families in Michigan. He will discuss the number of same-sex couples currently estimated to be raising children in Michigan, and the income discrepancies of these families as a result of denial of benefits.

Dr. George Chauncey is a Professor of History & American Studies at Yale University and co-director of the Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities. He has testified for the plaintiffs in the Prop. 8 trial and in Lawrence v. Texas, which successfully challenged that state's sodomy ban. He also testified in Romer v. Evans which successfully challenged a 1992 referendum approved by voters in Colorado to deny homosexuals the protected class status granted to other minority groups.

Dr. Gregory Herek is a Professor of Psychology at the University of California-Davis. He has become an internationally recognized authority on prejudice against lesbians and gay men, anti-gay violence, and AIDS-related stigma. Dr. Herek gave seven hours of testimony in the Prop. 8 trial.

Michael Rosenfeld is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Stanford University. He is a social demographer who studies race, ethnicity, and family structure, the family's effect on children, and the history of the family. Dr. Rosenfeld has extensively studied and dissected the Regnerus study, upon which the state predominantly relies, in order to sustain its contention that gays and lesbians make inferior parents compared to opposite-sex couples. Dr. Rosenfeld intends to refute every facet of what he considers to be this severely flawed and pernicious report.

Jennifer Sanderson is an Adjunct Professor of Accounting at Walsh College in Troy, Michigan. She has over twenty years of experience in public accounting, having most recently served as a Tax Principal at Rehmann, a full-service financial and accounting firm in Troy. Sanderson will be testifying as to the economic burdens imposed on same-sex couples who are unable to marry, including tax, insurance, pensions and other benefits burdens.

Kathi Nelson is a Licensed Master Social Worker and Executive Director of Hands Across The Water (HATW), a licensed, not-profit adoption, foster care, and social service agency. Nelson will testify about the process of placing children into adoptive homes. She will indicate that, in her experience, gays and lesbians are just as fit to parent as their heterosexual counterparts

Jane A. Bassett is an attorney in private practice in Ann Arbor. Her practice, founded in 1994, focuses on probate, elder law and domestic partnership family issues, including estate planning, second parent adoption, probate administration, special needs trusts, nursing home and Medicaid issues and elder abuse and exploitation. She is a founding member of Coalition of Adoption Rights Equality and a charter member of the National Family Law Advisory Committee of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Bassett will testify to costs same-sex couples must bear in order to obtain the unequal protections that are available to them.

Dr. Vivek Sankaran is a clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic, and Director of the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy. Dr. Sankaran has litigated numerous cases before the Michigan Supreme Court on behalf of parents. He also was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Child Abuse Prevention Board. Dr. Sankaran will be testifying to the issues faced by the Michigan foster care system and children who are wards of the state, including addressing the many difficulties the Department of Health and Human Services has in placing children, particularly special needs children, like April's and Jayne's children, and how the burdens placed on the system and these children would be eased by permitting second-parent adoptions in Michigan.

Luke Feltz is the 23 year-old son of a lesbian couple from Williamston, Michigan. Feltz excelled in soccer while at Williamston High School and graduated from Gettysburg College with a double major in Political Science and Globalization Studies. Feltz was also chosen to participate in a special study-aboard program with the Saudi government, where he met with government leaders. After interning at the White House and with the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Feltz was hired by the Lugar Center as the Project Coordinator for the Bipartisan Nuclear and WMD Policy Dialogue Program. He and his girlfriend, Laura, reside in Washington, D.C.
Feltz will be available to testify about his experience as a child raised from birth with two mothers in a rural area of Michigan.

Zoe Almquist is the 24 year-old daughter of a lesbian couple from Ann Arbor. She graduated from Northwestern University in 2011 with a major in mathematics. Almquist excelled at field hockey both in high school at Ann Arbor Pioneer and as a student at Northwestern. After graduation, she remained at Northwestern as an Assistant Field Hockey Coach. Almquist's team just won a share of the 2013 Big Ten Championship. She resides in Evanston, Illinois. She will be available to testify about her experience as a child born to and raised by a lesbian couple.

Implications And Expenses

The trial has implications for every LGBT couple in Michigan, as well as people who want to adopt children without the caveat of being married. "We are confident that our expert witnesses will demonstrate once and for all that same-sex couples are just as fit to parent as their heterosexual counterparts. Every major sociological and psychological organization is in agreement on this issue. There is simply no legitimate reason to prevent gays, lesbians, and their children from the same legal rights available to heterosexuals and their families," said Dana Nessel, one of the attorneys for the Hazel Park couple.
She and her legal team are seeking donations to cover the costs of their national and Michigan expert witness, associated legal and consultant fees and related trial costs. They say they need to raise between $555,550-$767,525 in order to fund the case. The website to give donations is


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