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My take on the “Children of Gay Parents” study

Timothy Kincaid

June 12th, 2012

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.

Comments

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Mark
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

This seems like a far, far too generous reading of Regenerus’ motives.

From the perspective of the project’s funders–Robbie George et al didn’t (and don’t) need another study proving the superiority of IBF’s over divorced parents, single parents, parents who had affairs, etc. Lots of such studies existed.

George et al did need a study that could be useful legally. George Rekers’ work had been discredited by Florida and Arkansas court decisions (even before the BTB investigation, which of course finished Rekers). As the Prop8 trial showed, without Rekers, anti-gay attorneys had no expert witnesses to call upon regarding same-sex parenting. How convenient, then, that Regnerus comes along at just the right time, to tell his funders just what they’d want to hear–his study already appeared in one amicus brief to the 9th circuit on DOMA, and will obviously play a major role in Supreme Court DOMA briefing.

None of us can get inside of Prof. Regnerus’ heart. But it is not unfair to attribute malevolent motives to a study with such severe (and obvious) structural flaws.

Jay Jonson
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

I agree with Mark. This is a far too generous interpretation of what Regnerus did. As Mark above and Claude Summers at glbtq.com intimate, the objective in publishing this wretched story was to get in a peer-reviewed journal something that could be cited in Supreme Court briefs to indicate that there is a rational reason to prohibit gay people from marrying. They have to cast doubt on the established science that says gay parents are as good as straight parents. The study is so badly done that it will have little credence within academia, but politically appointed judges will be eager to find some evidence that legislators who passed DOMA or voters who ratified Proposition 8 weren’t acting out of pure animus. Their instinct that gay men and lesbians don’t make good parents were right, and Regnerus ratifies their belief that the “gold standard” as he phrases it is a married mother and father raising their naturally born biological children. As Summers says, Regnerus work is “pseudo scholarship.” What I wonder about is how they conned a scholarly journal into accepting it and into publishing critiques of it by two people who are associated with it.

Timothy Kincaid
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

Yes, I agree Mark. That is the practical purpose of this study.

But this has nothing to do with being generous. I’m not being kind about his motivations. I’m saying that we have to understand what they are.

His goals, in the long run, are not “put down the gays”. Rather, they are “put down anyone who isn’t IBF”.

I’m not saying he isn’t a threat to us. I’m saying that it isn’t only just us, but everyone else that doesn’t fit his ideas about “ideal”.

Neon Genesis
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

Given the high number of divorce rates among evangelical Christians in the bible belt, I find it hard to believe that Regnerus was able to find so many happily stable heterosexual married couples but he found so few happily stable same-sex married couples that he had to purposely redefine what he considers to be a family structure just to justify continuing with his faulty data.

Mark
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy,

In this respect, I think your point is a distinction without a difference.

The Rutherford Institute and the Bradley Foundation didn’t need to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars to put down anyone who isn’t IBF–there are already lots of studies showing kids don’t do as well in broken homes, homes w/remarriages, homes w/single parents don’t do as well. Most credible studies (as BTB long has pointed out) already show this point. It wasn’t in any way *unfair* for Regnerus’ research to make this point.

The only thing that makes Regnerus’ study unusual is that he goes after gay families (through an absurd definition of what constitutes kids raised by gays or lesbians). And the way in which he treated gay and lesbian parents was *unfair*. If the only way that Regnerus can uphold his IBF model is by treating gays and lesbians unfairly–and if his study just happens to come along at a legally crucial time–then I think it’s entirely reasonable to attribute an anti-gay motivation.

StraightGrandmother
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

Tim don’t you jsut hate that when you write an article an nobody agrees with you ha-ha (Laughing WITH you Tim not at you)

Tim I do believe it is anti gay animus from the person who came up with the idea to the organizations that funded it right down to Mark Regnerus. I read several things about him but this is probably the one that carries the most weight with me.

Mark and his family became Catholic in 2011. Raised a Dutch Calvinist, and a pastor’s son, he completed the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) last Easter.

Speaking of his kids and highlighting his new Catholic identity, Mark joked that his three children put him just at the edge of Catholic respectability. He suggested that two might have left him suspect and merely one child would surely have left him deficient as a Catholic. More seriously, Mark alluded to the fact that his academic interest in family formation trends and processes had arisen while still an evangelical and his recent entrance into the Catholic Church has shaped his own thinking about fertility and family life. While only a brief exchange, his comments highlighted potential intersections between Mark’s personal engagement with his Catholicism and his research on sexual behavior. It also hinted at future contributions that his academic research could potentially make to the larger Catholic Church.

http://icl.nd.edu/initiatives-projects/catholic-social-and-pastoral-research-initiative/researcher-highlights/

This interview was on Dec 30, 2011 when his study was in full swing. See how he “Hints” at something that will be good for the Catholic Church? Although there is no such thing as “Catholic Data” he said that in an interview and that is true, but there are “Catholic questions that are asked or not asked” in order to gain or exclude data. And THAT IS TRUE.

I started putting his questionnaire in an If Then Else format using block indentation, I didn’t get very far because I ended up e-mailing him back and forth and then the story broke. But if you use indentation as in an If Then Else Format I think you will see that these questions were well thought out to get a certain response and not anything more. I think it will be obvious if I ever can finish that.

Tim I know you are not one to change your mind easily, but please reflect.

Timothy Kincaid
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

Okay, what exactly is it that you want me to believe? In one sentence.

StraightGrandmother
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

I believe that he accepted the research project with the intent to expose and prove gays make bad parents, and the reason he did so is based on his Catholicism and his desire to do something great for his church, who we know does not want sexual minorities to marry.

There one sentence pretty long but I got ‘er done.

Alec
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I don’t disagree that these groups are nominally opposed to the family structures that you mention. That being said, they are not spending millions of dollars and thousands of hours annually attempting to ban single parenting or to create instability among cohabitating heterosexual couples. And this study was clearly promoted to assist them in their anti-gay litigation campaign. As an attorney following the marriage and adoption litigation, it is all-too obvious.

Sleazy is the best word that I can come up with to describe Regnerus himself. No doubt he will communicate the importance of showing “compassion” to the sinful homos, but his church is not waging a campaign against single mothers or divorced parents, it *is* waging a campaign against gays. I’m not sure he anticipated the response he would get when called out on the rather obvious flaw of the study, which might explain his most recent attempts to backtrack.

I think your KKK analogy fails because these people are not seething with hatred or contempt for single parents or any of the other “non-IBF” family structures you refer to. The same cannot be said for their opposition to gays. Everything is on the table when it comes to keeping the homos in their place: Accusing gay men of pedophilia, promoting ex-gay therapy,suggesting gay men and lesbians are prone to violence, etcetera. And they have the usual suspects around to promote this nonsense and write up “studies” to this effect (consider Phillip C. Smith, the Mormon apologist running around defending Regnerus’ research and someone who has himself testified for anti-gay groups).

grantdale
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

His goals, in the long run, are not “put down the gays”. Rather, they are “put down anyone who isn’t IBF”.

Perhaps. It’s certainly a POV, but let’s not stop at simply expressing a POV.

We can also guess where something is going when only one element is the target of being materially attacked and materially affected.

For all the talk about ‘golden standrards’, wayward heterosexuals are treated with kid gloves. It is non-heterosexuals that are being put under a blowtorch.

There is no way hell on earth this paper will be presented in any bid to ban divorce or re-marriage by heterosexuals. Because such a thing is not going to happen. Ever.

It will appear however, soon, before SCOTUS. And that presentation will be about how disgusting, deranged and dangerous are gay men and lesbians.

Timothy Kincaid
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

SG

I have no disagreement with what you said.

I just want us to remember that we are just the battlefield, not the war. His Catholic ideology doesn’t stop with gay marriage. Contraception, divorce, the role of women, and a whole host of other Catholic teachings are right in line.

When I say he’s not just anti-gay, I’m not suggesting that he’s neutral. I’m saying that we are a small part of the big picture.

His goal is not ‘prove gay relationships are bad and then we’re done’. His goal is ‘prove the Catholic Church is correct in matters of family life’.

That is the ‘why’ behind what he does. As I think you agree.

I’m just reminding us to broaden our focus if we really want to know what makes these people tick.

He didn’t look at comparative straight and gay groups because that’s not the dichotomy he sees. It isn’t straight v gay to him. It’s ‘consistent with the Church’ or ‘not consistent with the church’ that he’s interested in.

Proving gays inferior is only the task. The goal is proving intact biological families superior to all else.

We really aren’t in disagreement here. I keep hearing ‘but he DOES want to prove gay families are inferior’ as though I have said otherwise. I haven’t said otherwise. Of course he is. But that is only part of his overall goal.

And that is why he put out a report that is so easily proven to be bilge water. Because he’s looking from an entirely different perspective and his long term goals are in the way of his politically expedient need to provide a study for court purposes.

Where we are seeing gay couples, he is seeing people who are not in an intact biological family.

Priya Lynn
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy said “Where we are seeing gay couples, he is seeing people who are not in an intact biological family.”.

I don’t think that’s the case given that he doesn’t tout this study as showing that non-intact biological families are inferior, he touts it as showing gay parents are inferior. Also the study itself focuses on parents who’ve had a same sex relationship, not on non-intact biological familes. No, he wasn’t targetting non-intact biological families, he was specifically targetting gay parents.

Timothy Kincaid
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Regnerus: “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.”

Priya Lynn
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Okay, maybe there’s something to what you say.

chiMaxx
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Alec:

I suspect the long-term goal of many of these groups is to put the genie back in the bottle in regard to cohabitation, contraception, and divorce, among other things. They focus on gay rights for now because they (still) think that’s a battle they can win in the short term. Should they win, they can use that victory to begin to chip away at the others.

In other words, I actually agree with both you and Timothy.

Timothy: Of course Regnerus would never acknowledge that the statement you quote two comments up logically supports same-sex marriage. By allowing gay man and lesbians to legally couple up in marriage, you reduce the number who will marry heterosexually and then later divorce. And those who–like Josh Weed–continue to do so will be men and women who have strong internal motivation to succeed.

Timothy Kincaid
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I think we may be converging on consensus. Or, at least, differing only in degrees. Cool.

Paul Mc
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I am outraged. Absolutely outraged. What Regnerus has done is exactly how Jones and Yarhouse approached the so-called change therapy efficacy study. With their training and credible and accurate use of statistics, peers have no reason to reject the research as being worthy of publication in mainstream journals. It’s the hiding being caveats that is most egregious. Every study has them. Einstein used caveats. But to pretend the caveats absolve one from the wider social and politcal impact of the study is naive at best.

As with Jones/Yarhouse, the analysis and statistical credibility is not the issue. It is the confounding of multiple factors in the sampling.

High N and low p is great in measuring effects but what if you just can’t believe the scale responses due to confounding factor of particiapnt motivation (Jones/Yarhouse and Spitzer)? Or separate the sampling categories of interest with enough finesse (Regnerus)? Or you just read random death notices (Cameron)?

Hell, just go ahead and publish and give the study sponsors the headlines they need and leave the fine print to those that know and those that couldn’t possibly make such firm conclusions given all the caveats.

Then let the LBGT community spend years, decades, unravelling the damage to equal rights on a global scale.

Thus is a new lie born to join the other woeful calumnies:
1. Gay men die at 42
2. Gay men are paedophiles
3. Lesbians make bad parents
4. Gay men cram gerbils into their lower intestines.
5. etc
6. etc

Thanks you Mr. Regnerus.

There is another spin on all this.

Regnerus has just provided the strongest and most credible data yet to back the case for stronger rights for LBGT persons to mitgate the consequences a homophobic society has on their children. He has shown the need for equal marriage, the need for anti-discrimination laws in housing and employment and in access to health services, the need for strong anti-bullying polices in schools specific to LBGTs and their children, and a host of other public policy areas that impact on the outcomes for children in LBGT families.

Thank you Mr. Regnerus.

Priya Lynn
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

In reading what Regnerus is saying to the conservative press about this study its pretty clear to me his motivation is to defame gay couples regardless of what measured language he may have put in the study.

Ben In Oakland
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, i basically understand what you’re saying, and i mostly agree with it.

But here’s something you taught me. Not all bigotry is hate, fear, ignorance, stupidity, unthinking cultural bias, sincere religious belief, a lust for power and money or dominion, or even in this particular case, the fear that you yourslef might be queer.

A good deal of bigotry is simply this: the unfaltering, unwarranted, unquesitoning belief in your won self-assigned and otherwise completely imaginary superioirty…

as a heterosexual, as a catholic, and as a human being.

Regnerus is demonstrating this in spades by your own testimony.So, I do think it’s an act of bigotry. whether conscious or not is another matter entirely.

Nathaniel
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Alec, I was going to say what chiMaxx did. He beat me to it. Having read a little more about this Regnerus, his opinion is certainly not limited to the LGBT community. My readings about Maggie and others suggest the same, and that they see the LGBT community as the current, immediate threat to their ideal family, so it attracts their focus. However, if they were to succeed in putting down that ‘threat’, they might then start to go after others. For now though, I think it provides a judge with one reasonable question: Will they use this study to attack other non-IBFs? I don’t think they would be willing to answer with the truth, but the lie would demonstrate their animus towards the LGBT community.

Tim, thank you for sharing this thought. I think it is an important one. We seem so willing to throw single moms and divorced parents under the bus (well, of course THOSE kids have problems) b/c the study ‘targets’ us. I don’t know how else to approach it, but we can’t be dismissive of these other family forms simply to save our own. Even many of ‘their’ failings do not necessarily directly result from the ‘instability’ they represent. So we should be pointing to statements that suggest that this study does not identify causative factors, and start asking what those causative factors are. Then we, as a society, can work to correct them to ensure all family types are equally successful. Do we not have a saying “It takes a village to raise a child”? Why then, do we spend so much time, so many studies, saying that certain family forms are ‘inferior’ and not addressing the why’s? (I suspect money is the biggest factor, followed by ostricism from family/friends who would otherwise provide various forms of support).

I would also like to remind everybody that we all have biases, and scientists are no less immune. But we run into problems focusing too much on what one person’s bias might be. How do we respond then when a ‘pro-LGBT’ study is criticized for having a lesbian researcher? She is no less biased. But, I think the research speaks for itself. And in this case, I suspect that Regnerus didn’t work too hard to prove his bias. He assembled some numbers, saw what he wanted and crowed like a rooster. The thing is, in a peer reviewed environment, if he tried too hard to prove his point, the flaws would be too glaring to pass review. If he believes what he believes is true, then he must also believe that science would prove it, and looked no further when he saw what he wanted. So I applaud this site for focusing on the flaws of the research. Surely more scrutiny will bring to light other limitations. We can explain these failures with the biases, but we should not spend too much time dismissing this study solely based on potential biases of either the researcher or his funding source.

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