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U.S. Senator Catches Anti-Gay Testifier Misrepresenting Study

By Robert Steinback on July 20, 2011 - 8:16 pm, Posted in Anti-LGBT

A representative of one of the nation’s largest organizations opposed to same-sex marriage learned, as the U.S. Senate and the entire nation watched, to be careful what studies you cite – because someone might actually read them.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota caught Thomas Minnery, vice president of government and public policy for Focus on the Family, blatantly mischaracterizing a government study on the benefits to children of being raised by two married parents as referring to opposite-sex parents, when the report itself drew no such distinction. It was the latest in a relentless campaign of misrepresentations, half-truths and outright lies in recent years that have defined anti-gay Christian right organizations intent on opposing equal rights and common dignity for LGBT people.

Testifying today at a Senate hearing on a bill that would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Franken said, “Mr. Minnery, on page eight of your written testimony, you write, quote, ‘Children living … with their own married biological or adoptive mothers and fathers were generally healthier and happier, had better access to health care, less likely to suffer mild or severe emotional problems, did better in school, were protected from physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and almost never live in poverty compared with children in any other family form.’ You cite a Department of Health and Human Services study that I have right here from December 2010 to support this conclusion.

“I checked the study out,” Franken said, pausing to let a ripple of laughter from the gallery dissipate, “and I would like to enter into the record, if I may, that it actually doesn’t say what you said it says. It says, ‘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 replied, “I would think that the study when it cites nuclear families would mean a family headed by a husband and wife.”

“It doesn’t,” Franken said, again spurring laughter from onlookers. But as with the earlier audience reaction, Franken, a former comedian, remained deadpan serious. “The study defines a 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 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.”

Earlier, Franken had said, “The Defense of Marriage Act is an injustice. It is an immoral and discriminatory law. … Repealing DOMA will be a great day in this country, akin to the enacting of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution,” which guaranteed women the right to vote.

It is ironic that Focus on the Family’s representative was the one taken to task today. The organization, once the nation’s unchallenged powerhouse in anti-gay activism, has taken a decidedly more moderate, or at least more pragmatic, stance regarding same-sex marriage since current president Jim Daly took over for founding president James C. Dobson in 2005. Although remaining ideologically opposed to same-sex marriage, Daly has suggested that trying to stop it is a losing proposition for “pro-family” groups due to strong support from young people and pervasive problems confronting heterosexual marriages. Asked in May about same-sex marriage, Daly said, “We’re losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don’t know if that’s going to change with a little more age – demographers would say probably not. We’ve probably lost that. I don’t want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.”

But the change in tone at Focus hasn’t deterred a host of other Christian-right organizations and commentators from continuing to peddle demonstrable falsehoods about LGBT people (see also here, here) – even quietly recycling lies that had been tacitly acknowledged as false.

  • MrsCaptJack

    Well, I knew I liked Al Franken and now I know why. Good job, Senator. Sam Molloy and Beverly Kurtin, thanks for both your posts. I enjoyed them thoroughly.

    I must say, coming from a typical family (female/male parents) I was molested by the female, ignored by the male and tossed out of the female’s home more times than I can count. I turned out well enough, being a small business owner and a decent person. That typical family I came from was (on the outside) quite civilized. You would never have known the real inner workings, even if you came to dinner twice a week for a year.

    I have gay friends who have children who are lazy students and straight friends who have children who are lazy students. What makes a family a FAMILY is the love that transpires in the home.

  • Beverly Kurtin, Ph.D.

    Oh dear Sam Molloy. I may hug you if we ever meet, thank you for saying part of what I was about to say. Thank you thank you and might I say thank you?

    I know a Xian when I see their hate being expressed while hugging a big bible where Jesus talks in red.

    I have actually met some Christians; I knew they were Christians because of their love for other people. They never went around telling people they were Christians, they merely went around quietly doing good things, not because they thought they HAD to, but because it was the right thing to do. You just had to love them for who they were.

    I am not a Christian of any sort and unfortunately I do not hate anyone, I say unfortunately because that apparently makes me a minority. Today seems to be an age of hatred toward everyone.

    Sam, James Dobson is merely like ALL Xians. They are ALL against the teachings of Jesus. They pray in public, say the same prayers over and over again and think that their god has ADD because they keep saying god, father, lord, lord, father, god over and over again. They use many words when one or two would do in direct violation of what Jesus had to say over in Matthew six.

    They also choose to hate homosexuals because of what the apostate Paul had to say in Roman one. They totally IGNORE the rest of the things Paul railed against such as gossiping, hating their parents…hop on over to Google and type in romans 1.

    Despite the fact that about ten percent of humanity is and always have been homosexual and that the percentage of other animals is even higher. They reject the truth that some species of fish and worms change sex when necessary to keep the balance of male/female level. They put their fingers in their ears and say lalalalalalalalala over and over again so they cannot hear the truth. Morons.

    T party. They want the country to default just because of the “principle” that is involved. Apparently, their parents never married, the poor dears. That is why they’re so screwed up in their non-thinking.

    Constitution? What’s that? The guv of Texas was thinking about doing away with eminent domain until someone told him that it would be unconstitutional. (Amendment V)

    The T party are against taxing the wealthy because the majority of them ARE the wealthy and so are the RepubliCANTS. The Democrats are also rich, most of them, but they’re willing to give their fair amount.

    A word about Social Security: IT IS NOT AN ENTITLEMENT PROGRAM. IT IS PAID FOR BY PEOPLE WHO PAY INTO FICA THE FEDERAL INSURANCE CONTRIBUTION ACT. It has never contributed ONE CENT to the debit, yet, if August 3 comes along and no agreement had been reached prior to that, the FIRST thing to stop will be the issuance of Social Security checks. That will throw most people into abject poverty. No money, no rent/mortgage payments, no food purchases, no nuttin’.

    My own doctor was astonished to discover that Medicare will also come to an instant halt. God help anyone who has a heart attack who is on Medicare; knowing the for profit hospitals, they’ll just let the poor bastards die.

    But the RepubliCANTS will not raise taxes on the wealthy. They’re essentially giving the 70 to 80% of the people the finger; they do not care if we sink to that level.

    I have never taken anything that did not belong to me. But I will steal if I’m hungry and cannot buy food; I will steal gasoline if I can. If I, who have lived a clean life for 70 years am willing to say to hell with everything, imagine what those who don’t particularly pay much attention to the law will do.

  • Sam Molloy

    @homophobes?, You can always inform them that “abomination” is an incorrect translation of the Hebrew word “Toveah”, meaning unclean, dirty, and culturally taboo. It is grouped with wearing two types of cloth and eating shrimp. It was not the word “Zimah”, which is wicked and sinful under any circumstance. Then ask him why Jesus healed a Centurion’s lover, as evidenced by the words “pais”, (“my boy”) who was “entimos” (dear to him) and also his “duolos” ( servant, not his son). A Tea Party person may not understand all that, as they don’t even understand the Constitution, and it’s way simpler.

  • homophobes?

    i was talking to a christian/tea party supporter the other day and this subject came up. he said it was an abomination and the bible says so. i asked him if he was in the closet and he got flustered. especially after i explained to him how “paul” had bottom problems and all the major players in the bible were mysoginists.

  • Sam Molloy

    Has anyone researched James Dobson’s upbringing to find out why his ideas have strayed so far from the teachings of Jesus?

  • Linnea

    Very proud to have Al Franken as my senator!

    BTW, the video of this exchange is posted on Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, if anyone’s interested.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AronL Aron Levy

    Ranger,

    I was not obscuring or distracting. I was merely making light of one of your rather more ridiculous statements.

    If you’ll notice, I never made one comment supporting or detracting from your position. Yes, I took a dig at you, and no, I honestly don’t think you’re missing any sub-atomic particles.

    Please see my comments on previous HateWatch posts to read my views on happiness. I sadly lack the time to rehash them now.

    I believe you’ll find my views rather logical.

    Aron

  • http://splcenter.org Robert Steinback

    @Ranger,

    Whether or not the study actually included same-sex couples among the nuclear families surveyed, Minnery made it sound as if same-sex couples WERE included among non-nuclear families being contrasted with nuclear families, which is clearly not the case according to the study’s definition of “nuclear family.” At best, one could say same-sex parents weren’t addressed at all — but it cannot be inferred, as Minnery obviously attempted, that same-sex parents are included among the non-nuclear families that show inferior results for children’s well-being. In fact, other studies have shown that children of same-sex couples fare as well as those of opposite-sex couples. The discrepancy in child outcomes most studies — including this one — have found is between two-parent households and single-parent households. Right-wing pro-family groups typically try to obscure the fact that a same-sex marriage with children is a two-parent household.

    Robert Steinback
    Deputy Editor, Hatewatch Blog
    Southern Poverty Law Center

  • Hashmir

    Oh, don’t give me that “you don’t tolerate my intolerance” crap. No, we don’t. Get over it.

    And you’re still reading the text wrong. The study showed that a nuclear family had the listed advantages over non-nuclear families. In the context of opposing arbitrary-sex marriage, FotF said that the study showed that those advantages applied *only* to heterosexual married couples.

    This is simply untrue.

    If the study uses *only* heterosexual couples, then FotF is lying because it only showed the advantages of straight nuclear families over non-nuclear families — married couples of other gender combinations were not represented, and nothing about them can be inferred relative to strait nuclear families.

    If the study does *not* define “nuclear” as implying “heterosexual” — and I have yet to see a compelling reason to think they were — then they are lying because the study then suggests that non-heterosexual married couples’ families would gain *all* of the same benefits.

    In short, Focus on the Family is full of it and so are you.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    The “nuclear family” is a historical anomaly anyway, as Stephanie Coontz showed in her book The Way we Never Were. It was a product of the prosperous era right after WWII. Ironically this era also had far higher tax rates and a lot more government intervention in the economy. It was government subsidies for home mortgages(as well as the GI bill) which made the nuclear family possible. Well, for white people mostly.

  • Ranger G

    Aaron, try commenting on something relevant to what I wrote; the old game of distort and distract is, well, old.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AronL Aron Levy

    Ranger,

    So you’re claiming that the literal definition of ‘nuclear’ is enough to prevent homosexuals to marry? Might I enquire as to what nucleus your atom consists of?

    I think you’re a neutron short of a helium atom.

    Aron

  • Ranger G

    Franken asserted that same sex couples could fall in the definition of “nuclear family,” and therefore Focus could not use the positive data about the benefits of nuclear families to support its position in favor of marriage. Franken had a point–such couples could fall in the definition. But that does not discredit the use of the study, because there were so few (if any) same sex couples in the survey that they would have negligible impact on the nuclear family data. That is where I say Franken lied–unless he truly did not know that same sex couples were all but absent from the “nuclear” sample, in which case he was just ignorant, not lying. If he was just ignorant of what he said he studied, then I apologize for calling him a liar.

    Put another way, whether there were a few same sex couples in the data pool or not, the overwhelming number of nuclear families were real nuclear families with a mom and a dad, so the study did stand for what Focus said it stood for. And I don’t know why you’re bringing “religion” into this discussion; I’m talking about science…the same science that teaches us that two protons do not a nucleus make. So if anybody is sloppy here, it was whoever came up with the loose definition of “nuclear” which belies its fundamental nature. Focus used the study fairly; Franken used a snarky, ad hominem attack in an effort to discredit his opponent’s testimony. So much for “civility” and “tolerance” so often touted by the left….

  • legalhound

    Ranger,
    Franken didn’t lie, but you need to learn how to read. These studies do not seek out “opposite sex marriage families” to test. They lump all those who fit the definition that Franken quoted from the study into one group and then compare info from that group to the others. It was not meant to be stratified due to the fact that other studies have shown that gay parents are just as capable of raising well adjusted children as straight parents. Science is king and religion has no credibility so it needs to be tossed out of the law once and for all. Gays are just as good and worthy as anyone else. You don’t have to like it, but you have no choice other than to accept it because you have lost and they aren’t going away.

  • Martha W

    I,for one, am so glad this issue is finally being addressed. Children are best raised in family situations where the adults are healthy and focused parents. This is not limited to married heterosexuals – many of whom have neglected, abused and killed their children. While some people in my age range ( I am 66) are more set in their thinking than I am, there are many of us “silver foxes” who are adamantly for GLTB being treated fairly and with equality.

  • JoeBuddha

    Actually, Mr. Franken DIDN’T lie. He didn’t say anything about whether gay couples were included, just pointed out that the study didn’t say what the FOTF rep claimed it did.

  • William LaBarge

    It is one thing to oppose gay rights and to oppose same-sex marriage. It is another to bear false witness against gay people in the process for it goes against one of the Ten Commandments that states: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbors.

  • Pickwick

    I am proud and privileged to have Al Franken for my Senator. I believed he’d be a positive force when I cast my vote and he has not disappointed. Good job, Senator!

  • Ranger G

    Franken lied about the content of the study: if any same-sex couples represented themselves as “nuclear families,’ the study had no way to stratify that data nor analyze it. The author of the study admitted candidly that if any same sex couples were involved in the study, there is no way to discern any meaningful information from the data. Franken lied.

  • kbrown225

    Al Franken is an amazing senator, it is so refreshing to see an intelligent senator confronting these hate-mongers and their lies in such a forthright fashion.

  • Charles Stromoski

    Sir:

    I have come to the conclusion that societal change only occurs when people die, that is, the older/oldest generation can’t vote, can’t poison anyone anymore with antiquated viewpoints and they take their prejudices to the grave. As a majority of the younger generations evolve and grasp the inclusive nature of society as a natural occurrence and our differences as not something to separate us, there is hope for this country and this world. I have come to this conclusion in the 40+ years since 1968. The year this country split apart between the generations and the beginning of the division between ‘Love it or leave it’ Americans and those Americans who embrace positive change. ‘Wedge Issues’ have enabled flawed people to lead us through most of my adult life. I rejoice in the finding that ’20-&30-” something adults are rejecting this hate. I have immense hope and confidence in the future.

  • Christine

    Focus on the Family has a long record of telling untruths about LGBT people and our families. Truth Wins Out’s “Respect my Research” project has video footage of respected scholars making statements about how various representatives of Christian Right organizations (including Focus on the Family) deliberately misuse science to demonize us. Focus on the Family has done all of the things that SPLC used to designate Family Research Council (also co-founded by James Dobson, by the way) a hate group, including implying that LGBT people are more likely to be sexual predators of children.

    When are you going to finally designate Focus on the Family as a hate group? This is LONG overdue.