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Discredited Anti-Gay Researcher Mark Regnerus Claims Marriage Equality Polls Are Biased

RegnerusIf you happen to be a gay parent or Towleroad reader, you may remember Mark Regnerus, the anti-gay social scientist (and my former professor no less) who published a "flawed, misleading, and scientifically unsound" study of gay parenting last year that was widely circulated among 'pro-family' groups.

Now, Regnerus (pictured) has set his discredited sights on same-sex marriage. In an article published Tuesday for the National Review Online, Regnerus made three arguments to support his claim that the apparent growth in the public's support for marriage equality is being inaccurately inflated by flawed methodologies of pollsters:

1. Question "priming"-

"Gallup continues to ask a question about the legality of 'homosexual relations' before it asks about same-sex marriage, a technique known as 'priming'....priming shapes respondents' answers to subsequent questions, particularly where sentiments about a previous question spill over. Gallup asks whether respondents 'think gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal,' a question that most observers would assume is not even asked any more."

2. The "Bradley" effect-

"In 2010 Patrick Egan, assistant professor of politics and public policy at New York University, compiled ten years of polling data about same-sex marriage in states that had voted on same-sex-marriage ballot initiatives. He found that public-opinion consistently underestimated ballot-box opposition to SSM....[When] sensitive issues are at stake, people may feel pressure to give pollsters answers that sound enlightened, politically correct, or free of any trace of 'bigotry' - a term that has reemerged as a club in the debate over same-sex marriage."

3. Question wording-

"Other suspects are the words with which survey questions are constructed. When polling organizations include the term 'rights' in their question - as do Gallup, USA Today, and CNN/ORC - support for same-sex marriage is elevated: Each found 54 to 55 percent in favor. Survey respondents appear to react positively to words like 'rights,' 'freedom,' and 'benefits,' and negatively to words like 'ban.' 

Carlos Maza over at Equality Matters has a great breakdown of each of Regnerus's points, none of which stand up to serious scrutiny. Considering his last major publication on gay issues was deemed 'bullsh*t,' Regnerus may want to tweak his own research methodology before he starts criticizing others'. 

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  1. @Bill: You make several good points, but there are far more serious problems with the methodology that do, I think, make it "total crap" that really gives us NO reliable information.
    Even Regeneres has apparently admitted that there were only two people in his study that he knows of who were raised in a gay parent household (though even the existence of those two has been questioned considering other faults in his classificaton).
    His use of terms like "gay parents" when refering to his findings does not just "confuse the non-experts" -- it is a complete fabrication.

    He was also handed roughly a million dollars by the anti-gay groups who wanted him to come up with some anti-gay numbers.

    A rough parallel would be if someone accepted a million dollars from the Klan to report on "the evils of black parents." So then he asks 100 white kids "has one of your parents ever had an affair with someone of another race?" and then categorizes all of those kids as "Children of Black Parents."

    And let's say there were actually TWO people we know to be black parents in the study, but let's not let that get in the way of categorizing hundreds of families that experienced affairs (and perhaps broke up as a result), most of whom aren't even black, as "The Children of Black Parents."
    What would such a study tell us about black parents? Absolutely nothing. And what does Regeneres' "study" tell us about gay parents? Absolutely nothing.

    In fact, if Regeneres had been paid a million dollars by a (hypothetical) anti-heterosexual group to look at the children of hundreds of ACTUAL same-sex parent households and had asked them "Has one of your parents had sex with someone of the opposite sex?" (and categorized all of THEM as "Children of Straight Parents,") he would very likely end up with theb same type of data in the opposite direction. (Children of straight parents have more problems).
    Extra-marital affairs (which often break up families) would be disproportionately represented in that group, whether you're asking kids if their same-sex-married mom has had sex with men or whether their opposite-sex-married mom has had sex with women (or whether one of their black parents has had sex with a white person, etc., etc.)

    If I were allowed to use methodology as shoddy as Regeneres did, I could commision a study to show any numbers in any direction against any group that my million-dollar financiers want me to come up with. And if they don't care if the numbers are implausible, it would be easy.

    Posted by: GregV | Aug 22, 2013 7:35:36 PM

  2. For every reason he cited, I can invent 10 reasons why the polls underestimated supports for SSM. Just idle speculations which can't be verified. For example, people are afraid to say they support SSM because the pollsters may think they are gay themselves.

    Posted by: simon | Aug 22, 2013 7:59:55 PM

  3. @Gregv: of course he had only two cases where an individual was raised by two gay parents - the people he interviewed were adults up to something like 40 years of age, so they were generally children at a time before even civil unions were in widespread use.

    He had a definition of what he meant by a gay parent (would have to go back and look at it to get the exact terminology), and experts reading it are going to look at that definition and understand that it has nothing to do with a child who was (for example) adopted by a same-sex couple married to each other. Unfortunately, that won't stop the homophobes from misrepresenting it.

    I think what his data actually show is that social pressure to force gays and lesbians to marry someone of the opposite sex can have a bad outcome for any children in their family due to the higher chances of a divorce or separation - basically societal homophobia was responsible it.

    My guess is that, if he waits 20 years and runs an exact copy of that study (with different people interviewed to make the ages similar), you
    will find a significantly different outcome.

    Posted by: Bill | Aug 23, 2013 3:13:43 AM

  4. Kyler! You tease! C'mon, if you're gonna name-drop that he was your actual professor, you need to do a separate story on his classroom demeanor, his ability as a teacher, how his classroom persona comports with his public persona, the degree of homophobia displayed, etc.

    This would be some of the first original reporting EVER to occur on Towleroad, and you're in a position to do it!

    Posted by: Spill It! | Aug 23, 2013 1:26:56 PM

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