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

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.