"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

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“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Sunday, June 17, 2012


In the service of ideology. I'm sure you've heard by now about the latest study of children of gay parents, which isn't actually a study of the children of gay parents. It's by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas, and . . . well, here's Jim Burroway's first analysis. Burroway somehow got hold of an advance copy (it's slated for publication in July, I believe). His initial comment is revealing:

This study finds “numerous, consistent differences, especially between children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents.” The results of this study would up-end some thirty years of established scientific research which showed that gay and lesbian parents are, on the whole, just as good as their straight counterparts. It would, at least, if the study’s methodology were designed to prove that point. But as is the case with all studies, the conclusions drawn by this study are only as good as the methodologies used to inform them.

It's the methodology that's fatally flawed, in my opinion. Essentially, according to Burroway's analysis -- and Regnerus' own comments -- what the study does it compare the children of heterosexual parents who have been married for at least eighteen years to the children of everyone else -- single parents, broken homes, foster children, you name it -- as long as at least one parent has had, at some point or another, a same-sex relationship. Sorry, that's not the same as being raised by gay parents. The attempted end-run in this case is apparent from the title of the study: “How Different are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.” Ostensibly it's about family structures; however, the conclusion doesn't confine itself to family structures. (Burroway did a follow-up on some of the critiques, which are instructive.) John Corvino pointed out the major flaw:

Regnerus’s analysis purports to debunk the claim that children from same-sex families display no notable disadvantages when compared to children from other family forms, including intact, biological, two-parent families—what Regnerus calls the “no differences” paradigm. Had the study actually focused on “same-sex families,” it might have shed some light on the issue.

Instead, Regnerus—a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin—asked respondents whether their mothers or fathers had ever had a same-sex relationship, regardless of the duration of the relationship and “regardless of any other household transitions.” He then allowed those answers to trump others in order to increase the “Lesbian Mother” and “Gay Father” sample size and treated all of the family-form categories as mutually exclusive, even though they are not. (To use the Haggard example: although he is still technically in an “intact biological family,” he would be counted among the “Gay Father” families in this study.)

Rob Tisinai noted that very flaw in a blog post titled, aptly enough, "Regeerus Admits He Lack the Data to Critique Same-Sex Parenting (*so why is he doing it?)" And Timothy Kincaid has some pertinent comments on what he calls the failure of Regnerus's study:

Regnerus did not set out to say anything about orientation, he simply set out to prove that a certain family structure is superior. And that’s where he failed.

When discussing heterosexual parents, he did compare family structures. The distinctions and differences between the groups were determined by marital status, divorce, step-parentage and the like, all of which address the structure of the families. However when it came time to discuss children of parents in which one was same-sex attracted, Regnerus played a sleight of hand. He redefined his terms such that ‘having a gay parent’ became in and of itself a family structure.

BTB commenter Straight Grandmother contacted Regnerus with some of these questions; the e-mail exchange was published in the blog, with what has become, quite frankly, the expected result:

Your accusations are getting more heated, and I’m afraid unless we can correspond civilly, I may have to call a conclusion to this.

You can read the exchange yourself to see if Straight Grandmother's "accusations" were heated. It turns out the flaws she's pointing out are resonating among social scientists in general. To give you some idea of the credibility this study has among psychologists, check out the American Psychological Association's statement.

Now, in an ideal world, I'd be with Tisinai in saying that the study should stand on its own merits, without regard to political leanings of its author or his funding sources. But Tisinai makes one key point:

You only find this out through dialog, through analysis, through holding responsible for what they’ve said and done. The other side wants to side-step all that. Too many of them positively thrive on shadowy innuendo about hidden agendas driven by secret motives. Don’t take the conversation to that world.

The average undecided person isn’t going to remember who financed which study. The average undecided person is going to remember their reaction on hearing the stupid crap the researchers tried to pull off. That feeling of disgusted wonderment will stick with them, even if the details do not.

By the way, the study was financed by two right-wing foundations, and first given notice in the Deseret News, which some take as the quasi-official organ of the LDS Church. What to they all have in common? Robert P. George, who also happens to be a founder and chairman emeritus of the National Organization for Marriage. Do you see where this is going?

Speaking of hidden agendas -- or maybe not so well hidden, Timothy Kincaid has put together a very interesting timeline on the actual process of publication, which is at sharp odds with the length of time normally taken to ready a scientific paper.

And there's a very instructive comment from Regnerus that starts to cast the whole thing in a new light, as noted by David Link:

In describing the methodology of his research, Regnerus says, “I realize that one same-sex relationship does not a lesbian make, necessarily. But our research team was less concerned with the complicated politics of sexual identity than with same-sex behavior.”

I can’t think of a statement that more clearly reveals the chasm between the way the extreme right views sexual orientation and the way most everyone else does today. Not knowing much about Regnerus, I have no idea what his political proclivities might be; all I can say is that his statement incorporates a view of homosexuality that is widely accepted only among the political and religious right today.

Scott Rose has some history on Regnerus and his attitudes toward gays. He's not what I would call unprejudiced. (Note: Rose has a tendency to be a little shrill -- try to get past that. The substance seems to be accurate.)

Ed Brayton calls it like it is: "Bogus".

Am I saying there's a political agenda here that coloring the science? Given the author's past history, the sources of his funding, and the audience that received advance copies, the integrity of this study starts to look questionable. Let me point out a couple of things: DOMA is under challenge in a number of court cases, and is losing badly. And, it's an election year in which voters will vote on marriage in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State. And what has always been the anti-gay right's trump card? "Save the Children!"

Draw your own conclusions.

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