MSNBC Misrepresents US News Article on Same-Sex Marriage

MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts harangued Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage on today's "MSNBC Live". "Why do you feel [gays] are less than you and don't deserve equal rights?" asked Roberts.

MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts harangued Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage on today's "MSNBC Live". "Why do you feel [gays] are less than you and don't deserve equal rights?" asked Roberts.

The openly gay daytime news anchor also touted a recent article in US News & World Report showing lower divorce rates in states recognizing same-sex marriages. The raw data Roberts provided do not appear to be in question; divorce rates in states recognizing same-sex marriage average at 41.2%, as opposed to 50.3% in states that do not. He also appears to be correct that the divorce rate in Massachusetts dropped 20.7% from 2003 to 2008.

But as any social scientist would tell you, correlation doesn't imply causation.

What Roberts conveniently ignored are the intervening variables that correlate both with same-sex marriage and with divorce rates. US News notes that states that have legalized same-sex marriage also tend to have more highly-educated populations. These populations tend to marry later, and late marriage also appears to be correlated with support for same-sex marriage:

Of the 10 states with the highest median age for males at their first marriage, eight recognize or perform gay marriages, with median ages between 29.3 (Maryland) and 31.5 (D.C.). Iowa is the outlier here, with a median age of 26.9. Altogether, these statistics point to a relationship between older marriage age, low divorce rates, and liberal views on same-sex marriage.

The important variable is thus not whether a state recognizes same-sex marriage, but other factors that act on both same-sex marriage and divorce.

MSNBC viewers would have to either read the article Roberts referenced, or have some basic knowledge of research methods not to get taken in by what is either sloppy or biased reporting.

A transcript follows

MSNBC
"MSNBC Live"

08/05/2011

11:46 a.m. EDT

THOMAS ROBERTS: In an article in US News & World Report suggesting the correlation between legalizing same-sex marriage and lower divorce rates for states that recognize or perform gay marriages, the rate is 41.2%. But for states that don't, it's 50.3%. In Massachusetts where same-sex marriage was legalized in '04 the, the divorce rate went down almost 21%. What does that tell you?

JOHN LEWIS: It tells us that this movement for marriage equality is truly about our common humanity, and the common instinct to love another human being and to want to have kin and family and to have your family recognized fully with a legal marriage, and I can say from a personal perspective as an example, my husband, Stewart and I, have been together for 24 years. And for many of those years, we didn't have any rights and recognition for our relationship. But in 2008, we were able to legally marry in California, surrounded by friends, family, all of our living parents who were then in their 80s, and it was just a tremendous time for us. And I think as Americans are seeing their friends and neighbors and ordinary folks just like Stewart and me getting married and having happy relationships, it's showing that it's good- it's good for marriage. And It's good for our society because it brings us all together and respect each other.

ROBERTS: Brian, when you hear a story like that, why do you feel John and Stewart are less than you and don't deserve equal rights?

BRIAN BROWN: Gays and lesbians have the right to live as they choose. They don't have the right to redefine marriage. When you redefine marriage, there are profound public consequences. We see same sex taught in schools in states that have redefined marriage, but we also see religious organizations and individuals punished by the state. When you have Catholic charities, adoption agency in Massachusetts basically forced out of adopts because of course Catholic charities cannot adopt children to same sex couples. You see the profound consequences. So the notion that what you're doing bypassing same-sex marriage is expanding rights is wrong.

ROBERTS: The LGBT community is primarily raised by the heterosexual community. But the gay people got here through heterosexuals having sex, right?

BROWN: That has nothing to do with the fact that marriage is a profoundly public good. When you redefine the nature of marriage, there are consequences. We now have Jonathan Turley, one of the most esteemed legal professors in this country launching a lawsuit in Utah to claim that polygamy should be legalized there using the exact same arguments as supporters of same-sex marriage, redefining marriage is wrong. It is not true that two men or two women are in the same position as a man and woman, a husband and wife united together in marriage. These are different things.

ROBERTS: Until you get a divorce, and then the man and woman aren't united anymore in a marriage.