Gay-marriage advocates launch new attack on Regnerus family study
by Julie Borg
Posted 5/28/15, 11:18 am
As America waits to hear the Supreme Court’s verdict on same-sex marriage, debate on the subject continues to boil. The news has been saturated with cases of entrepreneurs whose businesses have been devastated by attacks from same-sex marriage proponents. But business owners aren’t the only ones whose hard work has been bulldozed.
Research conducted by Mark Regnerus, sociology professor at the University of Texas Austin, which found children of gay parents don’t fare as well in adulthood as children raised by both biological parents, has become a focal point of controversy and accusations. Now several of his critics are attempting to debunk his analysis.
The research published by Regnerus in 2012, surveyed 2,988 adults aged 18 to 39 and examined the outcomes of those who had grown up in a variety of family structures, compared with those who had grown up with both biological parents. The outcomes included such things as employment status, criminal history, marital status, income level, suicidal tendencies, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and overall happiness. The results showed children raised by same-sex parents did not fare nearly as well in adulthood as those raised in an intact biological family.
Almost as soon as Regnerus’ study was published, it was politicized. Many supporters of same-sex marriage attacked it, sometimes viscously, while a few claimed the study supported legalized gay marriage since that would allow gay parents to raise their children in a more stable home, a factor the study associated with better outcomes. Those who supported traditional marriage used the study as an argument against the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Now, two sociology professors, Simon Cheng of the University of Connecticut and Brian Powell of Indiana University, have re-analyzed Regnerus’ data and are attempting to discredit the findings. Cheng and Powell assert that Regnerus misclassified many of the children by counting them as being raised by same-sex parents when, in fact, they had not. They cite the fact that more than half of the 248 respondents included in the group raised by same-sex parents never lived with their parent’s same-sex partner and one-third either never lived with their same-sex parent or lived with them only very briefly, The Washington Post reported.
The researchers said that when these “misclassified children” are backed out of the data, the results show adults who lived with same-sex parents through most of their childhood have outcomes comparable to those from intact biological families. Some have suggested the reason Regnerus’ results showed children of same-sex parents did not fare so well was because of family instability, not their parents’ sexual orientation.
“I’ve never suggested that instability was not the key concern or that orientation was causal for the outcomes we see,” Regnerus told me. Same-sex relationships tend to be more unstable. The study included few adults with same-sex parents who had lived with those parents for most of their childhood because there are so few. Most of the respondents who had a gay parent were the product of a dissolved opposite-sex union, Regnerus said in an article in the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse. About half of those with gay mothers spent time with their mother and her same-sex partner in the same household, so exposure to a parent with same-sex behavior is not in question, he said.
Other critics raised concerns the study was biased because a large amount of the funding came from the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank, and one of the paid consultants and advisors for the research was a Witherspoon fellow.
The funders had nothing to do with the gathering, analyzing, or interpreting of the data, Regnerus said.
“All funders have agendas,” he told me. “It’s up to the scholar to stick to the science, interpret the data, etc.”
The survey never implied same-sex parenting causes children to have negative outcomes, Regnerus said. The data simply showed children of same-sex parents don’t fare as well in adulthood as those raised in intact biological families. Social science just describes what is, it doesn’t assign blame or give credit because it is difficult to discern cause, Regnerus said in Public Discourse.
“I just wish the charged atmosphere could begin to sustain a healthy and fair debate,” he wrote. “Not just yet, it seems.”
Julie is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She reports on science and intelligent design for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital.