Focus on the Family leader’s antigay testimony demolished at DOMA repeal hearing

by Mel Green | originally posted at Bent Alaska

In a Senate committee hearing on a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Senators Al Franken and Patrick Leahy demolished testimony by Tom Minnery of the antigay organization Focus on the Family.

Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family

Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family. Photo by Jamie McGonnigal of

Yesterday the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee had a widely-reported hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), a proposed bill which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). RFMA will not compel states to recognize same-sex marriages, but will grant to legally married same-sex couples the same federal benefits that are already enjoyed by the opposite-sex married couples. (See full text of H.R. 1116.)

One of the witnesses called by Senate Republicans to testify against the bill was Tom Minnery. Minnery, a cousin of Alaska Family Council’s Jim Minnery, is senior vice president of Government and Public Policy for the Colorado Springs-based national antigay group Focus on the Family (FOTF).

Mr. Minnery didn’t do too well. In fact, when answering questions by two senators in particular — Al Franken of Minnesota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont — Minnery showed just how weak FOTF’s arguments are against equality for same-sex married couples.

As described at ThinkProgress,

During this morning’s Senate DOMA hearings, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) destroyed Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery’s argument that children are better off with opposite-sex parents by demonstrating how Minnery misrepresented an HHS study. The study — which Minnery cited to oppose marriage equality — actually found that children do best in two-parent households, regardless of the parents’ gender.

Watch ThinkProgress’s video of the exchange:

The report whose results Minnery mischaracterized, Family Structure and Children’s Health in the United States: Findings From the National Health Interview Survey, 2001–2007, published by the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in December 2010, is available online. Minnery tried to claim that the study defined nuclear families as only those families headed by heterosexually married parents. But in fact, the CDC report defines nuclear families as “families consisting of two married adults who are the biological or adoptive parents of all children in the family” without reference to the sex/gender of the parents.

Here’s the passage from page 27 of the study with the finding that Minnery mischaracterized:

The findings presented in this report indicate that children living in nuclear families—that is, in families consisting of two married adults who are the biological or adoptive parents of all children in the family—were generally healthier, more likely to have access to health care, and less likely to have definite or severe emotional or behavioral difficulties than children living in nonnuclear families.

Debra L. Blackwell, lead author of the CDC study, later told that “Sen. Franken is right” — the study neither excluded same-sex couples, nor excluded them from the category of nuclear family so long as the couples otherwise fit the study’s definition of nuclear family: i.e., that the adults heading the family are married, and that all children in the family are either biological or adopted members of the family. Thus, Minnery’s claim that the study proves children of married opposite-sex couples do better than children of same-sex couples is absolutely false. Or, as Franken said,

I frankly don’t really know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies these ways.

In another exchange, Minnery admitted to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that DOMA is harmful to children of same-sex parents who are legally married but who — because of DOMA — are denied the federal benefits that families headed by opposite-sex married couples enjoy.


Minnery was not, of course, the only person who testified at yesterday’s hearing. E.J. Graff, author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution, has a good summary at The Atlantic:

Witnesses at today’s hearing included men and women whose same-sex marriages — valid in their home states of California, Connecticut, or Vermont — are not recognized for federal purposes, because of DOMA. As a result, they face the insults and injuries of nearly losing a house because they can’t receive a dead husband’s pension, or having their financial security eroded by being taxed thousands of dollars if they are listed on a wife’s health insurance policy. Witnesses also included advocates who gave their stump speeches: the “preserve marriage” advocates, who predicted that this bill would lead to polygamy, incest, the deterioration of marriage as an institution, and disastrous consequences for children; and the “end marriage discrimination” advocates, who talked about equality and justice under the law and about equal protections for children who grow up in families headed by either different-sex or same-sex pairs. Except for the fact that some of the witnesses were talking about lawfully recognized same-sex spouses, no one said anything very different from what was being said 15 years ago, when DOMA was passed.

But, the article notes,

the hearing was completely different from anything imaginable in 1996. It’s hard, now, to remember that foreign country, which was almost unrecognizably hostile to lesbians and gay men.

Along the same lines, ThinkProgress’s Igor Volsky writes,

Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act highlighted the nation’s evolution towards LGBT equality, but also demonstrated a decreased desire on the part of Republicans to use same-sex marriage as a political wedge. For while DOMA passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in 1996, just two Republican senators — Chuck Grassley (IA) and Orrin Hatch (UT) — appeared at yesterday’s hearing, and only one (Grassley) spoke-up in its defense. The rest of the debate was dominated by Democrats, some of whom expressed regret for voting for the law, “talked warmly about how DOMA wrongly harms same-sex couples and their children,” and explored how federal discrimination contributed to the high suicide rates within the LGBT community.

ThinkProgress has put together a compilation video of how the original DOMA fight went down in 1996. Watch:

h/t to Alaska blogs Progressive Alaska and Immoral Minority, which briefly covered Sen. Franken’s exchange with Tom Minnery. Immoral Minority’s post includes video from Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC coverage of yesterday’s hearing.

A note on usage: Is Focus on the Family a “hate group”?

It has sometimes been erroneously reported that Focus on the Family has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). In fact, SPLC has made no such designation.

FOTF is is included on a Spring 2005 list by SPLC of 12 prominent antigay groups, but only 3 of the groups on that list — not including FOTF — were designated by SPLC as hate groups. A Winter 2010 article at SPLC’s website describing 18 antigay groups designates 13 of them as hate group, but again FOTF is not among them. The article explains,

Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.

In accordance with SPLC usage, Bent Alaska will refer to Focus on the Family as an antigay group, but not as a hate group.

FOTF does, however, continue to affiliate itself with SPLC-designated hate groups such as the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, as pointed out last November by Jeremy Hooper at Good As You:

In light of the recent additions to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of anti-gay hate groups, we asked Focus on Family’s Communications Director, Gary Schneeberger, if the Colorado Springs mega-gelicals still plan to reach out to groups like the American Family Association and the Family Research Council (two of the five groups added to SPLC’s dishonor roll). Here is Schneeberger’s on record reply:

“We have some substantive differences with the way the SLPC defines ‘hate,’ so we’ll continue to base our partnerships on biblical criteria such as adherence to God’s truth and extension of His grace.”

FOTF apparently sees no contradiction between God’s truth and the biblical prohibition in the Ninth Commandment against bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16) — such as the propagation of known falsehoods (also known as lies) that American Family Council’s Bryan Fischer and Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins routinely engage in. (See SPLC’s discussion of both groups for details.) But given Tom Minnery’s misrepresentations yesterday before a Congressional committee, that’s not surprising.

SPLC has a page on antigay hate groups with links to related stories.

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