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Saturday, December 16

Q&A: UCLA researcher talks role in Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling


Gary Gates, the Blachford-Cooper Distinguished Scholar and research director of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, conducted research on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population that was cited in the Supreme Court’s decision Friday to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Gates has filed “friend of the court” briefs to the Supreme Court that point out the recent surge in the number of same-sex couples and their significant likelihood of providing families for adopted and foster children, among other conclusions. His briefs had an important influence on the Supreme Court’s ruling, Gates said.

Daily Bruin contributor Pei Ni spoke with Gary Gates on Monday about his research and how it influenced the Supreme Court’s decision.

Daily Bruin: What were the roadblocks to legalizing gay marriage nationwide?

Gary Gates: The biggest block occurred in the George W. Bush era where so many states passed constitutional ban on same-sex couples getting married. So that put up a lot of roadblock towards trying to legalize it, even at the point that public opinion had perhaps swayed to be more favorable of marriage equality. I think that was one of the reasons why it was so important that the Supreme Court weighed in, because even if states wanted to make the change, changes in the constitution would take a significant amount of time.

DB: What inspired you to research the demographics of the LGBT community?

GG: The research started about 20 years ago when I was working on my doctorate dissertation. I had the great privilege to work with three advisers at Carnegie Mellon University who had figured out a way in the 1990s census to, for the first time, identify same-sex couples and their families. That was the topic of my dissertation and basically became my life’s work.

I saw that it was something no one else was doing, and I thought there was a need to quantify some of these things, to provide more objective research in this topic.

I’m gay, so there was certainly a personal interest for me. (But) I do the research because I think it is an important topic for social scientists to think about. I think it has importance to go far beyond issues of same-sex couples. It’s part of a broader agenda to understand changes that are going on in the American family and in the American society. The personal motivations were something that caused me to be initially interested in the research, but there are certainly many more important reasons at this point.

DB: How many people in the U.S. do you think agree with your research and the Supreme Court’s ruling?

GG: Surveys would suggest that more than 60 percent of Americans support marriage equality at this point.

DB: Can you briefly describe your research that was cited in the Supreme Court ruling on Friday?

GG: My research is primarily on the demographics of the LGBT population, and specifically same-sex couples. My amicus brief went into details about how many same-sex couples there were, how many were raising children and the degree to which same-sex couples are disproportionately raising adoption and foster children. It was cited by Justice (Anthony) Kennedy.

DB: How did your research conclusions make a difference in the Supreme Court decision?

GG: It provided statistics and numbers to document how many same-sex couples there were, how many were raising children. I think it helped to show that this wasn’t something that was just happening in gay neighborhoods or urban areas, (but) that same-sex couples were everybody’s neighbors, friends and family.

I think it was the mere act of being able to count same-sex couples and their families (that helped propel the Supreme Court decision the most). (It was the) Census Bureau data that could provide this kind of information (to show) that this is a real population in the country. Being able to know they lived and were raising their children everywhere, that it wasn’t a small phenomenon, that had an impact.

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