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LGBT Groups Condemn 'Flawed, Misleading, and Scientifically Unsound' Paper on Gay Parenting

Calling it a "flawed, misleading, and scientifically unsound paper that seeks to disparage lesbian and gay parents," GLAAD, HRC, The Family Equality Council and Freedom to Marry yesterday condemned a parenting study trumpeted by its author Mark Regnerus (pictured) yesterday in Slate which on its face appears to overturn three decades of research into families with same-sex parents. The story was picked up widely in media.

RegnerusThe study is being lauded, of course, by right-wing groups like NOM.

Writes Regnerus in Slate on the 'New Family Structures Study':

Instead of relying on small samples, or the challenges of discerning sexual orientation of household residents using census data, my colleagues and I randomly screened over 15,000 Americans aged 18-39 and asked them if their biological mother or father ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex. 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.

The basic results call into question simplistic notions of “no differences,” at least with the generation that is out of the house. On 25 of 40 different outcomes evaluated, the children of women who’ve had same-sex relationships fare quite differently than those in stable, biologically-intact mom-and-pop families, displaying numbers more comparable to those from heterosexual stepfamilies and single parents. Even after including controls for age, race, gender, and things like being bullied as a youth, or the gay-friendliness of the state in which they live, such respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male and female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things. Why such dramatic differences? I can only speculate, since the data are not poised to pinpoint causes.'

A critical look at the article, also in Slate, by William Saletan, makes this note:

Regnerus calculates that only one-sixth to one-quarter of kids in the LM sample—and less than 1 percent of kids in the GF sample—were planned and raised by an already-established gay parent or couple. In Slate, he writes that GF kids “seldom reported living with their father for very long, and never with his partner for more than three years.” Similarly, “less than 2 percent” of LM kids “reported living with their mother and her partner for all 18 years of their childhood.”

In short, these people aren’t the products of same-sex households. They’re the products of broken homes. And the closer you look, the weirder the sample gets. Of the 73 respondents Regnerus classified as GF, 12—one of every six—“reported both a mother and a father having a same-sex relationship.” Were these mom-and-dad couples bisexual swingers? Were they closet cases who covered for each other? If their kids, 20 to 40 years later, are struggling, does that reflect poorly on gay parents? Or does it reflect poorly on the era of fake heterosexual marriages?

And John Corvino in The New Republic points out why Regnerus gets everything wrong.

Question: What do the following all have in common?

A heterosexually married female prostitute who on rare occasion services women;
A long-term gay couple who adopt special-needs children;
A never-married straight male prison inmate who sometimes seeks sexual release with other male inmates;
A woman who comes out of the closet, divorces her husband, and has a same-sex relationship at age 55, after her children are grown;
Ted Haggard, the disgraced evangelical pastor who was caught having drug fueled-trysts with a male prostitute over a period of several years;
A lesbian who conceives via donor insemination and raises several children with her long-term female partner;

Give up? The answer—assuming that they all have biological or adopted adult children between the ages of 18 and 39—is that they would all be counted as “Lesbian Mothers” or “Gay Fathers” in Mark Regnerus’s new study, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study” (NFSS).

The LGBT groups answer back:

Key problems with the “New Family Structures Study” include:

The paper is fundamentally flawed and intentionally misleading. It doesn’t even measure what it claims to be measuring. Most of the children examined in the paper were not being raised by parents in a committed same-sex relationship—whereas the other children in the study were being raised in two-parent homes with straight parents.

Given its fundamental flaws and ideological agenda, it’s not surprising that the paper doesn’t match the 30 years of solid scientific research on gay and lesbian parents and families. That research has been reviewed by child welfare organizations like the Child Welfare League of America, the National Adoption Center, the National Association of Social Workers and others whose only priority is the health and welfare of children and that research has led them to strongly support adoption by lesbian and gay parents.

In addition, the paper’s flaws highlight the disconnect between its claims about gay parents and the lived experiences of 2 million children in this country being raised by LGBT parents.  Americans know that their LGBT friends, family members and neighbors are wonderful parents and are providing loving and happy homes to children.

The paper fails to consider the impact of family arrangement or family transitions on children, invalidating any attempt on its part to assess the impact of sexual orientation on parenting.  The paper inappropriately compares children raised by two heterosexual parents for 18 years with children who experience family transitions – like foster care – or who live with single or divorced parents, or in blended families. Moreover, the limited number of respondents arbitrarily classified as having a gay or lesbian parent are combined regardless of their experiences of family instability.

And where did this study come from?

Regnerus is well known for his ultra-conservative ideology and the paper was funded by the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation - two groups commonly known for their support of conservative causes. The Witherspoon Institute also has ties to the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage, and ultra-conservative Catholic groups like Opus Dei.

Said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin: “Because of the serious flaws, this so-called study doesn’t match 30 years of scientific research that shows overwhelmingly that children raised by parents who are LGBT do equally as well as their counterparts raised by heterosexual parents.”

Added: GLAAD President Herndon Graddick: "A growing majority of Americans today already realize the harms this kind of junk science inflicts on loving families. If the media decides that this paper is worth covering, journalists have a responsibility to inform their audiences about the serious and glaring flaws in its methodology, and about the biased views of its author and funders."

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Comments

  1. This is absolutely ridiculous. For every "finding" in this study, there would be several findings to dispute it. Whenever people say something about how LGBT couples shouldn't be raising kids, I always counter with my uncle and his long-term partner. My uncle was married to a woman for 20 years, they got divorced and he came out. They shared custody of their three daughters, so each parent had equal time. The oldest daughter is a doctor who did her residency at Stanford, the middle is a social worker who went to Harvard and the youngest is studying to be a nurse. They are all kind, intelligent, well-adjusted and awesome people. I then ask the person, "tell me about your kids" and it usually shuts them up right away. I know is is anecdotal, but not any more so than the people in this flawed study. The only thing that matters is that children have parents who love them, regardless of sexual orientation.

    Also, who in the hell would trust a study from a guy with that douchey facial hair?

    Posted by: JennyB | Jun 12, 2012 7:58:50 AM


  2. First of all is he in the cloest? I look to see who funds studies and a majority of times it is people/organizations that are for or against what ever junk scientific studies are doing. What were they measuring? Did they say what they were measuring?

    Posted by: Wyocowboy | Jun 12, 2012 7:59:05 AM


  3. Fundy study muddy.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jun 12, 2012 8:01:29 AM


  4. "New Family Structures Study"

    should be

    "Dysfunctional/Broken Families, Swingers & Down-low Parents: A Study of Bad Parenting and Negative Resulting Effects"

    Let's create a negative-based study, then skew it and play with the numbers so it makes all gay parents look bad. Great idea!

    Posted by: johnny | Jun 12, 2012 8:31:00 AM


  5. Dr. Regenerus's Respondents were raised in a MIXED ORIENTATION MARRIAGE (MOM), or a MIXED ORIENTATION SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP. A MOM is where one spouse is gay and one spouse is straight. That is who responded to this survey people who had parents in a MOM. Regnerus confirms that he found only a few Respondents who were raised in a straight up lesbian or straight up gay home. Here is part of his e-mail to me which he asked me to post.

    [snip]"By the way, one of the key methodological criticisms circulating is that–basically–in a population-based sample, I haven’t really evaluated how the adult children of stably-intact coupled self-identified lesbians have fared. Right? Right. And I’m telling you that it cannot be feasibly accomplished. It is a methodological (practical) impossibility at present, for reasons I describe: they really didn’t exist in numbers that could be amply obtained *randomly*. It may well be a flaw–limitation, I think–but it is unavoidable. We maxxed Knowledge Networks’ ability, and no firm is positioned to do better. It would have cost untold millions of dollars, and still may not generate the number of cases needed for statistical analyses.[end snip] You can read the full e-mail exchange here-
    http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2012/06/11/45557

    We know that only 1/3 of Mixed Orientation Marriages attempt to stay together after disclosure and of that 1/3, only half manage to stay together for 3 years or more (and it goes really down hill after 7 years).

    FWIW I agree with Dr. Regnerus Mixed Orientation Marriages (or Mixed Orientation Sexual Relationships) that produce children are VERY BAD for the children. And that is what his study proves. It does not attempt and does NOT assess the outcomes of children raised by 2 loving moms or 2 loving dads. It.Does.Not.

    This pic by Rob Tsinai describes this research perfectly. I know he will let you re-post it.
    http://wakingupnow.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/quit-damning5.png

    Posted by: StraightGrandmother | Jun 12, 2012 8:53:15 AM


  6. Plot a two-by-two box: the vertical dimension represents whether or not the family is stable, and the horizontal dimension whether the parents are straight or gay/lesbian. The valid comparisons are then horizontal (straight vs. gay/lesbian, controlling for stability) or vertical (stable vs. unstable, controlling for sexual orientation.)

    Diagonal comparisons are invalid. It's meaningless to compare stable straight families to unstable gay/lesbian families, but that's exactly what Regnerus did. And it's not like he was unaware of the importance of stability on family structure, since he's been going on about it for some time and even posted an editorial about it recently in a national newspaper.

    Add to that the fact that this is a highly polarized and politicized topic, and that the funding came from the right wing, and you have all the makings of junk science.

    Why did Social Science Research publish this flawed study? Chiefly because it utilized random sampling; previous studies had used convenience sampling, which is a common and accepted way to reach hard-to-find populations but is less rigorous than random sampling. Of course, random sampling has its weaknesses too, and they are on display here. Only a tiny fraction of his 3000 informants coded as having gay parents, so Regnerus boosted his gay/lesbian sample by roping in informants who weren't as homogeneous as his straight sample. But with every new informant he coded as having a gay father or a lesbian mother, he also introduced other factors (chiefly family instability) that ultimately made it virtually impossible to draw any firm conclusions.

    In his public statements Regnerus has been careful to note the limitations of his study, and in his other writings I don't see any smoking gun that clearly indicates whether he's homophobic. However, he knew going into this study that family stability was an important factor; he chose to study gay/lesbian parents but accepted sizable funding from organizations that were well known opponents of our community; and the release of this study was plainly well coordinated with NOM and right-wing news media like the Deseret Sun, an organ of the Mormon Church. I would have to conclude that, if Regnerus isn't homophobic, then he's at least very naive; and that the lambasting he's currently receiving from the LGBT community will pale by comparison with the pasting he is probably getting from his colleagues in sociology.

    Posted by: BZ | Jun 12, 2012 8:57:00 AM


  7. The large initial sample of 15,000 is, at first glance, praiseworthy. But the screening question "Did your biological mother or father ever have a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex?" is ridiculous.

    These are not gay parents. These are cheating-on-their-spouse parents, who TOLD THEIR CHILDREN ABOUT IT.

    The only conclusion I can draw from this research is that children of parents who had a same-sex affair, even just once, and TOLD THEIR CHILDREN ABOUT IT, are more messed up than children whose parents didn't tell their children about it.

    I would hypothesize that children of parents who had an opposite sex affair and TOLD THEIR CHILDREN ABOUT IT, are more messed up than children whose parents didn't tell their children about it.

    Of course, it's only a rumor that sometimes straight people aren't faithful and exclusive to their opposite sex partners.

    If someone asked me this question, my honest answer would be "I have no idea." If one or the other of my parents ever had a romantic relationship, or a one-time sexual encounter, with any one outside their marriage, they certainly did not tell me.

    Posted by: jpeckjr | Jun 12, 2012 9:00:25 AM


  8. Who the hell is Mark Regnerus, and why does Slate think he's qualified to produce a study of this kind?

    He's a pop sociologist whose written work on "sexuality" (i.e. as little as possible) is marketed to young evangelical Christians.

    Slate typically is a deadly dull albeit well-funded webmag, heretofore known primarily as the online home of the comic Doonesbury.

    What makes them so desperate for some headlines that they'd lend the marginal prestige of their corporate brand to extremist organizations like NOM and Opus Dei? The latter being the secretive Catholic lay organization which induces its members (such as Supreme Court Justice Scalia) to perform "mortification" of the body. In other words, daily self-torture intended never to let them forget the suffering of Christ.

    Of course Regenerus' study contradicts all legitimate social science which preceded it. Because it's not legitimate and its conclusions were predetermined.

    Posted by: cwm | Jun 12, 2012 9:04:53 AM


  9. @JPeckJr: had you said "I have no idea", you would have been excluded from the study. The irony here is that random sampling was used to try to control for one source of bias, but only ended up introducing a different source of bias.

    I think if Regnerus hadn't made the mistake of accepting money from a couple of right-wing think tanks, this study would have been published without a blip. (I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt about his motives, and assuming he's naive rather than homophobic.)

    Posted by: BZ | Jun 12, 2012 9:10:46 AM


  10. Another "hit" study done by a closet case paid for by the anti-gay crowd.

    I'd be more interested in finding out who "peer reviewed" this crap.

    Posted by: QJ201 | Jun 12, 2012 9:13:16 AM


  11. Just another Christian conservative shill. This study has been sharply criticized and denounced ever since it was posted by Slate. With that being said, why Slate choose to actually run with this, with the studies' obvious slant to promote an anti-gay agenda, is definitely a question needed to be asked, for their own reputation more than anything. Outside of that, this study isn't going to gain any traction outside of social conservative circles.

    Posted by: Francis | Jun 12, 2012 9:24:36 AM


  12. @QJ201 I agree. Who reviewed this and why wasn't it given a pass or a revise and resubmit with a more appropriate title/spin?

    Posted by: KevinVT | Jun 12, 2012 9:45:25 AM


  13. It's really far more simple:
    There are tons of studies about dysfunctional and broken straight families or how bad single-parenting allegedly is. Yet I see no one trying to pass laws to discriminate against those families

    Oh and Regnerus is definitely homophobic. He is pretty much a hardcore Catholic who views everything through the faith lens. And he has previously written op-eds disparaging gay people and same-sex parenting.

    Also note that the co-founder of NOM sits on the board of both of those think tanks. He also sits on a board for the Mormon rag Deseret News, which first "reported" the study. This is all clearly planned.

    Posted by: Steve | Jun 12, 2012 10:24:34 AM


  14. Here's a little graphic summing up the paper's flaws:

    http://wakingupnow.com/blog/im-so-fed-up-with-this-crap

    Posted by: Rob Tisinai | Jun 12, 2012 10:33:50 AM


  15. Let's face it - no matter how much the science is flawed, no matter how much we can easily pick it apart, no matter how much GLAAD and HRC condemn it, no matter that there is 30 years of studies in our favor, no matter that Slate itself published a counter argument, no matter what happens - NOM, Tony Perkins, and every anti-gay GOP politician will trot this study out. They and the general public will not care how flawed it is - they will clutch their pearls and cry about the children of broken "gay" homes. This really, really sucks. With just one very flawed study, Mark Regnerus has done so much to harm our movement.

    Posted by: KT | Jun 12, 2012 11:41:51 AM


  16. While I agree with most of the comments here, there are a couple of valid arguments on the other side.

    First of all, gay relationships DO tend to be less stable than married straight relationships, even taking the high divorce rates among straights into account, and, all things being equal, a more stable home environment is going to be better for children, regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents. Yes, half of all straight marriages end in divorce, but half don't--more than half where there are children involved.....and I doubt seriously that we will ever see the day when that kind of stability in long-term relationships is as common in gay marriages or gay households raising children.

    Secondly, there is some evidence--not surprising--that there is a special bond between a child and its birth parents that is very difficult to duplicate--and which effects a child's well-being and development.....which is why so many situations involving step-parents and adoptions are so rife with problems. And gay men will never be able to have that bond with their children.

    I just think we should try to get away from pretending that we are "just the same" as two heterosexual birth parents, when we never will be. And it does not make us "inferior" to concede that--AS LONG AS we are talking about the birth parents staying together throughout the life of the child and being good parents....in other words, all things being equal.

    Nature created a mother and a father for all of us and did so for a reason....and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that.

    We are better off not trying to compete with that, but simply taking the position that a situation involving two same-sex parents, while not ideal, is nevertheless still valid vis-a-vis many other imperfect household situations.

    Posted by: Rick | Jun 12, 2012 11:45:16 AM


  17. In the study's defense the metric was different from a standard look at dual parent gay households. Rather, taken at face value, the study found that gay relationships outside of the marriage (or after the marriage) was part of a destabilizing pattern that negatively affected the children of the household. This comports with the notion that gay marriage would be a good, stabilizing factor in the lives of these children, as other studies have indicated. The message is that bad parental behavior will negatively impact their children, which is not a huge surprise. NOM will try to suggest that gay marriage is the problem, but that's not indicated here. Also, the study points out that unstable marriages of any kind are far more common than stable gay marriages (or their equivalent). Thus, there are more kids at risk. However, the "solution" is not banning gay marriage, but furthering gay rights so that stable marriages are more likely. Saying the study is flawed is another matter.

    Posted by: anon | Jun 12, 2012 11:53:12 AM


  18. This is happening everywhere. If the facts prove you wrong, make up new ones. There is this study, there is the Barton book "proving" sic, that Thomas Jefferson was an evangelical Christian. There is actually a book on Amazon claiming the earth is the center of the universe (Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right).
    This is the reason to get rid of public schools, they are making Americans stupid and pliable.

    Posted by: bayhuntr | Jun 12, 2012 11:57:33 AM


  19. "However, the "solution" is not banning gay marriage, but furthering gay rights so that stable marriages are more likely"

    The instability of gay relationships is not due to a lack of marriage rights, and we all know that. Born out by the fact that in the states and countries that have legalized same-sex marriage, there have been very few takers.

    Granted, if homophobia were eliminated and society were more supportive of such relationships, at least some of them would last longer.

    But let's be careful not to blame "society" for issues that are largely of our own making.....and that are legitimate factors to consider when it comes to the best environment for raising children.

    Posted by: Rick | Jun 12, 2012 12:02:53 PM


  20. And gay men will never be able to have that bond with their children.

    Why? None of us will "bond" with our children?

    Posted by: GeorgeM | Jun 12, 2012 12:06:23 PM


  21. How many people really know whether or not their parents ever had a relationship with a same-sex partner? It's certainly not something I'd ever want to ask.

    Posted by: Bill S. | Jun 12, 2012 12:06:53 PM


  22. I think some gay men may not bond but that's more about them then all of us in the community. I feel sorry for those who can't.

    Posted by: GeorgeM | Jun 12, 2012 12:16:24 PM


  23. @George M Stop trying to put words in my mouth, George.

    I did not say gay men cannot "bond" with their children--the same way adoptive parents or step-parents can.

    And those bonds may, in some instances, produce the same healthy results in the raising of children.

    But there is no perfect substitute, all things being equal, for the natural father and natural mother raising a child together--and there is plenty of empirical evidence to back that up (unbiased evidence that is not the product of the Religious Right).

    As usual, some of you activists are going TOO far....which will bring negative rather than positive results.

    Nature decreed that reproduction of the species is a result of heterosexual intercourse--and that being a father or a mother depends on being party to that intercourse, not me or you.

    And you cannot change that, no matter how hard you try.

    Nor should you try.

    Posted by: Rick | Jun 12, 2012 12:18:13 PM


  24. I didn't put words wanted you to claify it, you did. Good for you
    Ya I'm know that we come from mom and dad I just wanted to make sure you didn't think I could bond with my child. Its not about eliminating mom and dad, we cant nor do i want to. Both sides have issues this is not the issue that gets my attention. I agree with some of the things you said.

    Posted by: GeorgeM | Jun 12, 2012 12:30:45 PM


  25. I'm part of a generation that has grown having with friends with gay parents. They're all fine. I have so many friends, now, who are gay and parents. Their kids are shining examples of a terrific home.

    Expect only the closeted anonymous hacks to come on here and spread their misery.

    And expect only the most irritatingly bigoted miseryguts to continue to insist, despite all rational logic and facts, that same-sex couples raising children are "lesser" parents.

    There are always going to be people who don't want the truth to be what it is - they'll lie to prove their "point", thus proving their "point" wrong.

    So it's ok.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jun 12, 2012 12:36:41 PM


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