Dr Sheila Matthews and the Jim Crow Revivalists

Taken at face value, Dr Sheila Matthews’ claim of religious discrimination, which is current before an Employment Tribunal,seems to be not much more than a bog standard piece of ‘religitigation‘, right down to the involvement of the Christian Legal Centre in the case.

Matthews was, according to reports, was appointed as a medical advisor to one of Northamptonshire County Council’s two adoption panels six years ago, a role in which she conducted medical examinations on families applying for adoption to ensure that they were healthy enough to provide a child with long-term care. She was removed from this position in May 2009 after asking to abstain from voting on an application submitted by a same-sex couple, in January 2009, the first such application received by the council since the introduction of Equality Act 2006, which requires same-sex couple to be treated on the same basis as other applicants.

In the last couple of years, there have been several instances in which self-professed Christians have been dismissed from employment for seeking to avoid/opt out of dealing professionally with gay men and/or lesbians, most notably the case of Lillian Ladele, a civil registrar who refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies on ‘religious grounds’. Ladele ultimately lost her case for religious discrimination and unfair dismissal after the Court of Appeal ruled against her.

As easy as it would be to dismiss Dr Matthews’ case against Northampton County Council as just more of the same and effectively, therefore, a re-run of Ladele vs Islington, there is an important difference between the two cases, one that merits further consideration and which, as I see it, provides a justification for the council’s decision far beyond any already accepted in law under the Ladele judgement.

It appears, from both the BBC report (linked above) and this report from the Daily Mail, that Matthews’ has gone much further than simply citing a religious or moral basis for her refusual to deal with applications submitted by same-sex couples. Both reports appear to refer to a public statement, issued through the Christian Legal Centre, in which Matthews states that:

“I understand that legislation permits same sex couples to adopt and they are positively encouraged to apply, but I have professional concerns, based on educational and psychological evidence, of the influences on children growing up in homosexual households and I feel this is not the best possible option for a child.

“I do not consider myself to be homophobic, however I believe that children do best in families with a father and mother playing different roles in a child’s upbringing and committed to each other in a lifelong relationship…

“…My view arose from both a professional one from my reading of the literature, and an historical Christian perspective of relationships, based on the Bible, an authority which our court system still uses today to swear in those giving evidence and juries, based on its authority.

As you can see, Matthews is justifying her position not simply on religious grounds but on the basis of her ‘professional judgement’, on ‘educational and psychological evidence’ and on her own ‘reading of the literature’, claims that can quite readily be examined and subjected to scrutiny – not least because, having touched on these issues in articles written for Liberal Conspiracy, I’ve read a fair chunk of the available research literature on same-sex parenting and adoption and already have a pretty good handle on the current state of play.

So, to summarise the current position, there is, to the best of my knowledge, little or no published evidence on parenting in gay male households, which indicates nothing more than the fact that this particular type of family remains sufficiently uncommon to preclude researchers building up a substantive evidence base.

So far as parenting and developmental outcomes in lesbian household, the picture is a little different. Here there are several published studies and, to date, these studies have shown a consistent pattern in their findings, one that demonstrates that there are no substantive differences between children brought up by a lesbian couple and those brought up in a ‘traditional’ family environmen –  although at least one study did find that children brought up in lesbian household tended to be slightly ahead of the development curve in terms of their social skills.

As regards the kind of issues that make anti-gay campaigners genuinely paranoid, these studies all found that children growing up in same-sex household adopted entirely conventional gender roles/identities, so boys were not found to be ‘feminised’, or girls ‘masculinised’ by their ‘unothodox’ family environment, nor is the case that these children were any more or less likely to favour same-sex relationships as they grew up and began to explore their own sexuality.

The myth that gay parents will produce gay offspring is precisely that, a myth.

Knowing that to be the current state of play vis-a-vis the credible empirical evidence of same-sex parenting one has to wonder quite what kind of literature Dr Matthews has been reading if this leads here, in her own ‘professional’ judgement to the conclusion that ‘educational and psychological evidence’ militates against same-sex adoption…

…although it didn’t long to find an answer to that question.

It took me a matter of a couple of minutes, using Google, to turn up this evidence review paper (427Kb, PDF) on an American Catholic Education website and a further 15-20 minutes background research to establish that the views expressed in the paper are pretty much the norm as regards the kind of ‘research evidence’ favoured by those who harbour a religious/moral objection toward same-sex adoption/parent.

The paper was authored by George A Rekers, emeritus professor of Neuropsychiatry & Behavioral Science at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine although, in this context, his academic credentials are somewhat less noteworthy than his status as both an ordained Southern Baptist Minister and as former officer or, and scientific advisor to the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organisation that actively promotes so-called ‘conversion therapies’ which aim to change homosexuals into heterosexuals.

Rekers’ paper advances three main arguments against same-sex adoption, as follows:

I. The inherent nature and structure of households with a homosexually-behaving adult uniquely endangers foster children by exposing them to a substantial level of harmful stresses that are over and above usual stress levels in heterosexual foster homes.

II. Homosexual partner relationships are significantly and substantially less stable and more short-lived on the average compared to a marriage of a man and a woman, thereby inevitably contributing to a substantially higher rate of household transitions in foster homes with a homosexually-behaving adult.

III. The inherent structure of foster-parent households with one or more homosexually-behaving members deprives foster children of vitally needed positive contributions to child adjustment that are only present in licensed heterosexual foster homes.

And runs to over 70 pages of research ‘evidence’ and arguments which put forward, in Rekers’ opinion, ‘A Rational Basis for Prohibiting the Issuance of Foster Parent Licenses to Households that Include a Homosexually-Behaving Member‘.

The paper, which Reker’s compiled while acting as an ‘expert’ witness for the State of Arkansas in a 2004 case which challeged the state’s policy of prohibiting same-sex couples for acting as foster parents, is – not to put too fine a point on it – one of biggest piles of tendentious, unscientific crap that I’ve ever had the misfortune of wading through. It’s an exercise in predjudice-based evidence making for which there just isn’t enough mindbleach in the world.

Now don’t just take my word for it – read the full judgement of the court which heard the case (Howard vs Arkansas) and take particular note of the frankly devasting finding of facts entered by the judge, one that rejects, line by line – every single negative claim or assertion about homosexuals and homosexuality that Rekers put to the court. As judicial beatings go, this one is a doozy, the equivalent of putting a proverbial six-stone weakling in a boxing ring with Muhammed Ali at the very peak of his career.

Four years later, Rekers turned up again in court, and against as an ‘expert’ witness for the state, in another legal challenge to state regulations prohibiting same sex adoption in the State of Florida. Rekers schtick, on this occasions, was pretty much identical to that which he’d tried in Arkansas and the response of the court was, again, much the same. The judge in this case had this to say about Rekers and his testimony to the court:

Dr. Rekers astounded the Court when he testified that he favors removal of any child from a homosexual household, even after placement in that household for ten years, in favor of a heterosexual household. To this Court’s further astonishment, the witness hypothesized that such a child would recover from the removal from his family of 10 years after one year in a heterosexual household. The Court finds this testimony to be contrary to science and decades of research in child development…

Dr. Rekers’ testimony was far from a neutral and unbiased recitation of the relevant scientific evidence. Dr. Rekers’ beliefs are motivated by his strong ideological and theological convictions that are not consistent with the science. Based on his testimony and demeanor at trial, the court can not consider his testimony to be credible nor worthy of forming the basis of public policy.

Both courts concluded, quite reasonably, that Rekers’ personal religious and ideological beliefs so coloured his judgement that he was effectively incapable of rendering an unbiased and objective scientific opinion on the scientific evidence as it relates to same-sex parenting, fostering and adoption and on homosexuality generally.

Overall, the general tone of Rekers ‘evidence’ is eerily reminiscent of the kind of unscientific and wholly predjudicial nonsense that widely bandied around during the first half of the 20th Century in an effort to supply ‘scientific’ legitimacy to the Southern States racist ‘Jim Crow’ laws.

Dr Matthews’ claim that her views on same-sex adoption are predicated on her ‘professional judgement’ and on ‘evidence’ garnered from her own ‘reading of the literature’ is perhaps the clearest possible indication that she not only shares many of Dr Rekers’ beliefs about homosexuality and same-sex parenting but that she too is similarly incapable of offering an objective opinion of the merits of an applicant for adoption where that applicant is in a same-sex relationship.

In short, she disqualifies herself from serving as a medical advisor on Northampton County Council’s adoption panels not because of her religious beliefs but because the professional bais engendered by those beliefs has, by her own implicit admission, rendered her ‘professional judgement’ worthless. As such, the Council’s decision to remove her from the adoption panel is an entirely correct one, predicated as it is largely, if not entirely, on compelling evidence that she is simply not competent to undertake such a role.

Afterword

There are a couple of other matters of note here that are worth a brief mention.

In regards to Dr Matthews, it appear that this not the first occasion in which her professional judgement has been questioned in litigation.

In 1999, Matthews was sued, unsuccessfully, for damages by a woman who claimed that Matthews had prevented her from obtaining an abortion. The child at the centre of this case was subsequently born prematurely, in April 1989, after the plaintiff had suffered a major haemorrage, and was severly disabled as a result, suffering a major form of cerebral palsy.

Although the Plaintiff failed in her claim for negligence, the case did provide an interesting insight into Dr Matthews’ persoanl attitudes and actions as a general practitioner:

Dr Matthews denied negligence and said she opposed termination as part of her Christian beliefs, but did not allow this to cloud her professional duty. She claimed that always tried to be ‘as level and non-judgmental as possible’ and appreciated that many people did not share her views. But it was revealed that she had only ever directly referred one patient – a 13-year-old girl – for an abortion, and it was her normal practice to ask a patient who was determined to have an abortion to see another doctor at the surgery. She said it was very, very unlikely she would refer a patient for abortion even in the case of a non-viable fetus. She claimed that she would not have said that it was too late for an abortion as it was not, or said that no one would be prepared to recommend an abortion, as that was not the case. But it was not her view that Mrs Johnston was qualified for an abortion under the 1967 Act as in her opinion she was of an age when she could understand and cope with the pregnancy and was physically healthy.

As for George Rekers, his career as a scientific advisor to NARTH came to a typically ironic conclusion in March of this year after a Miami newspaper discovered that he’d employed a male prostitute as a ‘travel assistant’ for a 10 day trip to Europe. Rekers – naturally enough – denied that there was anything ‘improper’ about this arrangement, claiming that the ‘escort’ had only been hired to carry his luggage,  only for his denial to be rebutted by his travel ‘companion’, ‘Lucien’, who told the Miami New Times that Rekers…

is a homosexual who paid him to provide body rubs once a day in the nude, during their ten-day vacation in Europe.

Update 16/11 23:59

News has come in to say that Dr Matthews’ case has been thrown out after the Employment Judge ruled that her claim of religious discrimination had ‘no factual basis’.