Monday, January 19, 2009

Hawaii 1996, Part 4

Forgive my indulgences and my diversions away from my series on the remarkable 1996 Hawaii marriage case. But the time has come for me to resume the narrative with the “second half” of the state’s case, the half during which everything began to fall apart.

As I wrote in the last entry on the case, the state of Hawaii did its best to argue in its best interest. The state brought forward two very reputable witnesses to essentially assert that allowing same-sex marriage would be bad for children because it disrupted the traditional family model of a father and a mother. The first two witnesses for the state presented evidence that children do best when raised in a two-parent household with both biological parents.

I just want to repeat that I, nor should anyone else, have any argument with this assertion. But as was revealed during cross-examination of these witnesses, there is no reason to presume that single-parent households are incapable of raising well-adjusted children simply because it is a single-parent household. And further, that a same-sex household is not predisposed to ineffectively rearing children simply because it is a same-sex household.

That’s an important distinction to keep in mind.

The next witness brought by the case was Richard Williams, an “expert in the field of psychology with special expertise in qualitative and quantitative research and research methods, statistical analysis and construction of research studies.” When you realize what Williams’ testimony was, you can see where the state was going; but it was a dangerous and risky move.

For all I can tell, Williams was brought in to cast doubt on all psychological and sociological studies because both psychology and sociology were inexact sciences. But he didn’t stop there, as he went on to say that both were bogus sciences, period. And if his testimony was to be accepted by the court, it would mean that the state’s first two witnesses’ testimony was suspect as well.

As it turned out, Judge Kevin S.C. Chang ruled that “the testimony of Dr. Williams is not persuasive or believable because of his expressed bias against the social sciences…. At times, Dr. Williams expressed severe views. For example, (he) believes that there is no scientific proof that evolution occurred.”

Then came the state’s last witness, Thomas Merrill, an expert in psychology, including “human development, gender development and relationships relative to children and their development.” Sounds good, except that Merrill’s experience was in private practice: he was a counselor. And he had very limited experience with children raised in same-sex households. Add to that he had not testified as an expert witness in such a case prior to this one, nor had he either participated in or conducted “any study which focused on the children of gay and lesbian parents.”

“Dr. Merrill examined the issue of same-sex versus opposite sex parent and child development for the first time as a result of his retention in this case.”

Wow. And he came after a witness who essentially believed that all social science was mumbo jumbo.

But Merrill did say something worthy of note, and as is the case in assessing witnesses, testimony from a witness can be rejected entirely, accepted in its entirety, or only parts of it accepted and the rest rejected. It’s up to the “tryer of fact,” which is normally a jury, but in this case was Judge Chang. Merrill said that children should not be denied benefits such as health care, education or housing based on their parents’ status. “Opposite-sex, same-sex, single and adoptive parent status should not be a basis to deny benefits to children.”

Thus ended the state’s case. And while the burden of proof was entirely the state’s responsibility, the plaintiffs not required to provide any evidence at all, the plaintiffs picked up their case next.

It was a case that especially impressed the judge.

No comments: