The key to understanding Mark Regnerus’ study – and to understanding it’s failure – is understanding the motivations of the author and his funders. And, sadly, this is something that I think we fail to grasp with subtlety.
We tend to look at individuals and organizations who oppose our equality as being “anti-gay” and, as that is important to us, we elevate it’s importance to them. We see them as primarily and “anti-gay organization” and attribute motives and malices to them. This may not always be accurate. Anti-gay malice may simply be but a small – incidental even – part of their motivation.
Let me give an illustration: If one is Jewish, then it can be easy to see the Ku Klux Klan’s efforts over the years through the lens of how it impacts you. If one is insufficiently aware of the totality of their endeavors, one might confuse them of being an “anti-Jewish organization”. If one is black, that is not at all how they are perceived.
We need to understand that Regnerus’ study was not necessarily to prove that gay families are inferior. Rather, his goal was to prove that married heterosexual biological parents (intact biological families – “IBFs”) are superior. Not just superior to gays, but superior to everyone else. Gays are just one group, joining divorced parents, single parents, widows, adoptive parents, and all who aren’t IBF.
Children appear most apt to succeed well as adults when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father, and especially when the parents remain married to the present day.
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.
Regnerus did the same thing for adopted children. The stability of the family, divorce, age of adoption, prior trauma, nothing at all was important other than the way in which they differed from IBF, and as they violated the “B” (biological) then that is the only measure that was important. Regnerus’ “family structures” became defined not by what they were, but by what they were not. There were the Not-I’s: divorce, step-family, single; and the Not-B’s: adopted by ‘strangers’, gay fathers, lesbian mothers (and especially violates the unstated but underlying requirement that the IBF be heterosexual).
Oddly enough, while claiming that he didn’t “go into orientation of parents in this study”, that is precisely what he did. Should one parent have had a same-sex relationship of any sort, that was the determinant that pulled them out of whatever family structure they might have been included in and placed them, de facto, into a non-IBF family structure.
(Imagine if he had done a study in which some other situation were used to create a new family structure: “Families in which the parents are married fare better than ones in which one parent abuses drugs.” Or perhaps “Families in which the parents are married fare better than ones in which both parents work.” It sounds meaningful until you try find the meaning.)
So what is Regnerus to do with this data? He didn’t get the data he hoped for. He didn’t get meaningful data to address the premise he wished to support. He can’t break up the same-sex attracted parents into statistically meaningful family structure groups; he doesn’t have sufficient sample size.
So he has two choices:
He can eliminate the same-sex attracted parents from the study (or put them in comparable family structure groups) or even report that sample sizes disallowed any meaningful conclusions about the comparisons between IBFs and gay families. But then he’s left with a study that says “married parents do better than divorced parents” and that wouldn’t generate headlines in his mother’s Christmas letter, much less in mainstream press. And his funders would object to three quarters of a million bucks being spent on something that has been shown to be true in many studies before this one.
They know that they are superior (and just a bit more special) than divorced parents or those slutty single mothers (who surely are all on welfare). They have studies to prove it. But so far they didn’t have anything to point to which would prove them to be superior to same-sex families.
So instead he chose to play word games. He decided to claim that “one parent is same-sex attracted” is a family structure in the same way that married or separated is a family structure. And, of course, this could be presented (with lots of “oh, no, really”) as implied evidence that IBF is superior to same-sex married couples. Which is precisely what Regnerus did when he said:
In fact, the most significant story in this study is arguably not about the differences among young–adult children whose parents who have had same-sex relationships and those whose parents are married biological mothers and fathers, but between the latter and nearly everyone else.
But, ultimately, once one says “oh, but being gay is not a family structure” then his study becomes meaningless. As Mark Regnerus is discovering.