Regnerus’ Defenders Miss the Point

Rob Tisinai

June 20th, 2012

A group of professors has issued a statement responding to critics of the recent study by Mark Regnerus. Unfortunately, they miss the point entirely. To recap, the criticism is that:

  • Regnerus claims his study improves on previous research on same-sex parenting.
  • Regnerus has been using his study to make claims in the conservative media about same-sex parenting.
  • However, rather than surveying people who were raised by same-sex parents, Regnerus studied people who say one of their parents had a same-sex relationship, whether they were raised by those same-sex partners or not.
  • Regnerus has collected a sample of kids who spent more than three years being raised by actual same-sex parents, but it is so small that it represents no improvement on previous studies, and by Regnerus’ own statement is too small to offer statistically significant conclusions.

That’s egregious. Regenus’ defenders offer three points in response. Or do they? Their introduction does not bode well:

It is perhaps in part for that reason that the new study on same-sex parenting by University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus, which finds that young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex relationships are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional and social problems…

Immediately we find his defenders confusing “same-sex parenting” with “children of parents who have had same-sex relationships.” That doesn’t help their case.

The first of their three points is that prior research on same-sex parenting is flawed. Perhaps it is. But I don’t need to explore that to see this offers Regnerus no defense against charges of misrepresentation, and wouldn’t do so even if  he didn’t repeat the flaws he calls out in those studies (which he does).

Their second point is that Regnerus had trouble finding adults who had been raised by same-sex parents, and was forced to base his study on less stable family structures:

Thus, Regnerus should not be faulted for drawing a random, representative sample of young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex romantic relationships and also happened to have experienced high levels of family instability growing up.

But we’re not faulting him for that. To be clear: We’re faulting him for presenting his work as a (better!) study on same-sex parenting, and for making claims to the media about same parenting, even as he admits he was not able to study same-sex parenting!

His defenders’ first point was irrelevant. This one is actually damning.

Their third and final point is that a new study in a different journal seems to back up Regnerus’ conclusions. I haven’t looked at it yet, but even this, even if true, is irrelevant to the charge that Regnerus’ study does not examine what it claims to examine, and that his statements to the media are unsupported by his work.

The authors conclude by hoping that

[F]uture journalistic coverage of such studies, and this contentious topic, will be more civil, thorough, and thoughtful than has been the coverage of the new study by Professor Mark Regnerus.

I can only hope that future studies — and their defenders — will be more honest, thorough, and thoughtful than this work by Regnerus and those who claim to answer his critics.

Thanks to Box Turtle Bulletin reader Straight Grandmother for directing us to this statement.


June 20th, 2012

From the Declaration
“It is also worth noting that Regnerus’s findings related to instability are consistent with recent studies of gay and lesbian couples in countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden, which find similarly high patterns of instability among same-sex couples”
[5] Gunnar Andersson et al. 2006. “The Demographics of Same-Sex Marriages in Norway and Sweden.” Demography 43:

Well first off I would like to contact Gunar who wrote that now infamous “Norway Study” and tell them to do another one. They got it wrong it in this article it wasn’t the Netherlands it was Norway. AND again Norway and Sweden had CIVIL UNIONS NOT Marriages. This is the same shit new day. Apples/Apples Oranges/Oranges.

They talk about a brand new study which I am just starting to read

From the Declaration-
Third, another study[7] published this month in the Journal of Marriage and Family comes to conclusions that parallel those of Regnerus’s study. This study finds that “children in same-sex parent families scored lower than their peers in married, 2-biological parent households” on two academic outcomes, and that these differences can be attributed to higher levels of family instability in same-sex families, compared to intact, biological married families. This study was also based on a large, nationally representative, and random survey of school-age children; moreover, the same-sex parents in this study lived together. The parallels between the findings in this study and Regnerus’s study strongly call into question the New Republic’s claim that the Regnerus study “gets everything wrong.”

[7] Daniel Potter. 2012. “Same-Sex Parent Families and Children’s Academic Achievement.” Journal of Marriage and Family 74: 556-571.

So i am just starting to read the new Potter study and I notice Potter’s address on the bottom of page 1.

“1990 K Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC
20006-1107 (”

I wonder who else is at 1990 K Street in DC? It seems like an odd address for me for a researcher.

Mike A

June 20th, 2012

Missing the point was, well, the purpose of this study in the first place. So naturally its defenders will continue to dodge debate.


June 20th, 2012

Just starting on the Potter research. Basically he makes his case that anything but bio mommy+daddy the kids don’t do as well academically. And it is not so much the new family structure a single mm say, but the fact that the kids went through a transition. It is the family disruption that is bad on the kids not having a single mother. Now I am jsut getting to the part where he is talking about children raised in mommy+mommy and daddy+daddy but he notes that MOST families that are mommy+mommy or daddy+daddy were first formed as mommy+daddy.

“Same-sex parent families,
however, are primarily created from the dissolution of prior opposite-sex parent relationships (Stacey, 2006; Telingator & Patterson, 2008);
therefore, children experience changes to their family structure in the formation of these family units, which have not been considered by prior research.”

Next he goes on to look at the 2005 Census- (Readers please note that same sex marriage first came about in Massachusetts in May of 2004)

He found 158 kids to study.
I addressed two research questions: (a) What is the association between living in a same sex parent family and children’s academic achievement as measured by their mathematics assessment scores and (b) how does this
association compare with the outcomes of
children from other nontraditional families? To answer these questions, I applied a hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) growth curve model to data from the kindergarten through eighth-grade
waves of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten cohort (N = 19,043) and examined the association between living in a same-sex parent family (n = 158) and children’s math assessment scores.

“According to U.S. census data, in 2005 an estimated 270,000 children lived in households with two same-sex parents (Romero, Baumle, Badgett, & Gates, 2007). This represented less than 1% of all children in the country, and some scholars have suggested that the number
may be much higher (Stacey & Biblarz, 2001); nevertheless, despite the fact that they comprise only a small portion of households, these families have generated a large amount of public
fervor. At the center of the debate on same sex parent families is the question of children’s well-being (Alvare, 2005).


June 21st, 2012

I am not understanding this study. Becasue on the bottom of Page 2 he says he found 158 kids being raised in same sex homes.

“To answer these questions, I applied a hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) growth curve model to data from the kindergarten through eighth-grade waves of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten cohort (N = 19, 043) and examined the association between living in a same-sex parent family (n = 158) and children’s math assessment scores”

But when you look at his very first chart on page 7 he shows much fewer number of kids
Kindergarten =72
First Grade = 61
Third Grade = 31
Fifth Grade = 22
Eighth Grade = 22


June 21st, 2012

Potter Research-

Family structure was coded as a time-varying measure, and at each wave children were classified into one of eight categories: (a) married, two biological parents; (b) divorced; (c) stepparent; (d) single parent; (e) cohabiting; (f) widowed; (g) other; and (h) same-sex parent. Same-sex parent families were identified by means of roster data provided by the parent/guardian at each wave of the study. Respondents were asked to list the adults and children who normally lived in the household and were explicitly asked to exclude anyone who only temporarily resided. Families were labeled as ‘‘same-sex’’ if they satisfied one of six conditions:
(a) two ‘‘mother/female guardian’’ members,
(b) two ‘‘father/male guardian’’ members,
(c) a ‘‘mother/female guardian’’ and ‘‘girlfriend/partner of parent/guardian,’’
(d) a ‘‘father/male guardian’’ and ‘‘boyfriend/partner of parent/guardian,’’
(e) a ‘‘mother/female guardian’’ and a female ‘‘other nonrelative’’ between 21 and 49 years old, or
(f) a ‘‘father/male guardian’’ and a male ‘‘other nonrelative’’ between 21 and 49 years old.

Adult respondents were not asked to report their sexual orientation, so after identifying cases that met one of these conditions, each was visually inspected to verify its structure. For example, if a household was identified as having a ‘‘father/male guardian’’ and a ‘‘boyfriend/partner of parent/guardian,’’ it was visually inspected to determine whether any other adult lived in the household, such as an adult female or girlfriend, which might suggest a family arrangement other than a same-sex parent family. After completing the visual inspection, 158 children were classified as living in a same-sex parent family during at least one wave of the study.


June 21st, 2012

Amazing to see them repeatedly try to use the same slight-oh-hand he does: “But we think that the Regnerus study, which is one of the first to rely on a large, random, and representative sample of children from parents who have experienced same-sex relationships, has helped to inform the ongoing scholarly and public conversation about same-sex families in America.”–referring first to “parents who have experienced same-sex relationships” and then jumping in the next phrase to “same-sex families” as if these are the same thing.

This is, once again, like the analogy I used in a different thread of a study that purports to compare Karger supporters to Romney supporters in the Republican primaries, but, finding out that the sample of Karger supporters is too small, lumps in Santorum, Bachmann, Huntsman, Perry and Gingrich supporters, since they also supported non-winning candidates, but the final study still refers to the consolidated group as Karger supporters because that’s what it set out to study.


June 21st, 2012

The presented findings therefore indicate that the consequences of living in a same-sex parent family were similar to those associated with living in divorced, stepparent, and cohabiting parent families: There was evidence that these children did worse than their peers from traditional families, but the apparent detriment does not reflect the family structure and instead was indicative of disruptions, instability, and changes associated with the transitions accompanying the formation of these nontraditional family types.

(And remember early on in the report they report that they “assume” most of these children were born in mommy+daddy homes)

Rob you can insert that graphic of yours. Stop damning gay families because of heterosexual families. It applies perfectly to Potter’s extremely limited data set.


June 21st, 2012

SGM – from your summary it also looks like Potter engaged in the same data manipulation as Regnerus – putting unlike groups together. The groups e) and f) you describe could be a wide range of living situations, including roomates (i.e., both the families in the TV shows Kate and Allie and Full House would have counted as “same-sex” in his calculation. Even something like group a) two “mother/female guardian” members could include a situation like my cousin, who shared custody of her daughter with her own mother (the girl’s grandmother) during her rehab from a drug addiction.


June 21st, 2012

CPT_Doom- Ah Ha! Ding Ding Ding! You have answered a question that has been niggling at me. On a Catholic Centric (but they try and hide that fact very well) website that I comment on Dr. Shumm who was a paid consultant for 3 days on the study design mentioned that some researchers may be improperly coding same sex relationships as same sex, when in fact they are are mother daughter relationships. I didn’t say anything at the time but I wondered about that, I was puzzled about that.

You have answered my question. Yes I can see how that situation can happen like you described with your cousin. A child or the parents when interviewed indicate a mother + a non wife, non partner female parent. It is because the daughter has a problem so the grandmother steps in as a legal co-parent. Thx!


June 21st, 2012

When people start demanding “civility” in discussions of public issues, it generally means they have no answer to the criticisms they’re receiving. It’s not that anyone is necessarily being rude — it’s just that those complaining are being criticized.


June 21st, 2012

Straight Grandmother —

Is that the same Walter Shumm who did a “study” that “proved” that the children of same-sex couples are more likely to be gay? It turns out that his “data” (sorry for all the scare quotes, which are actually laugh quotes in this case) came largely from popular books on parenting, including one author who said she purposely screened her interviewees because she wanted equal representation.

Faith-based science again.


June 21st, 2012

Surely, it is worth pointing out that most of the signers of this statement teach at such places as Baylor University, Brigham Young University, and Notre Dame University, and include people like the egregious Loren Marks. They defend the absurd study because it is resembles their own shoddy work.


June 21st, 2012

They really don’t understand what we’re talking about and they’re so insulated by academia that they think the critics don’t know what they’re talking about.

I love the bit in there where they take a dig at the stability of same-sex relationships. It’s like they’re saying our data’s better because it fits with our prejudices.

Time will vindicate us.


June 21st, 2012

Yeah Hunter I bet it is the same Shumm. I am guessing but he has an interest in this area. I think he is out of the University of Kansas. If it is not to much trouble it would be great to see a link to a critique of that Shumm report. Don’t knock yourself out finding it though.


June 21st, 2012

Jay I researched the signers of the what I call, “Declaration of Support for Mark Regnerus”

I ddin’t look up all fo them, for example I skipped the guy at Brigham Young but I did get most of them. If I recall right virtually every single one of them has a religious bent on their research. The last guy on the list out of Connecticut he got an award from Christianity Today for a Christian book he wrote.

I sent my research into Box Turtle so probably they will be writing about that soon. I also sent it to a few other places so this should start to percolate real soon. One guy who signed wrote a paper how we should reintroduce Prayer in the Public Schools. Anyway I sent if off to Box Turtle and a couple other organizations (but not anyone similar to Box Turtle). So everyone can save their time doing this research, I did it and forwarded it.


June 21st, 2012

So he says that most gay families start as opposite sex families and then he compares them to intact opposite sex families. Instead straight step-families. That makes perfect sense…

Mark F.

June 21st, 2012

I think a lot of these people assume that because God finds same sex relationships sinful, it just HAS to be true that kids with parents in same sex relationships suffer. They have already made up their minds before any evidence has come in.

These are the same sort of people who think that anyone who claims to be happy and actively gay is either delusional or a liar.


June 21st, 2012

I think this way of listing the signatories would be more interesting.

Witherspoon Fellows and Senior Fellows marked with ^. Signatories to Witherspoon Institute’s 2005 “Marriage and the Public Good”, wherein they call same-sex marriages one of the dangers to heterosexual marriages, are marked with *:

Byron Johnson *, ^
Douglas Allen, Simon Fraser University (Economics)
Peter Arcidiacono, Duke University (Economics)
John Bartkowski, University of Texas at San Antonio (Just 1 of 13 colleagues from the same Dept supports Regnerus? Where are the other 12?)
David Eggebeen* Penn State University
Michael Emerson* Rice University
Ana Cecilia Fieler, University of Pennsylvania (another Economist; International Trade and Development Economics; why not let English majors sign too?)
Alan Hawkins, Brigham Young University (testified in the Iowa Varnum case against same-sex couples)
William Jeynes, ^
Loren Marks, (unsuccessful witness at Prop 8, whom pro-prop8 side decided not to use after he was confronted with citing selectively from prior research, ignoring what he didn’t like.)
Margarita Mooney ^
Stephen Robinson, University of North Carolina at Wilmington (yet another Economist)
Christian Smith, University of Notre Dame
Rodney Stark, writes books on religion
James Stoner*,^ Louisiana State University (Dept of Political Science)
Peter Uhlenberg, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
W. Bradford Wilcox, identified as ^ at Witherspoon as of 2011
Bradley Wright, University of Connecticut (mostly involved in research on criminality, homelessness, religion, and a couple of papers on fatherlessness)

Total: 5 Witherspoon Fellows or Senior Fellows, 4 Signatories to call to prohibit same-sex marriage, one witness in a same-sex marriage trial, one wannabee witness (who did a sloppy job in the run-up to the trial), a bunch of Economics professors, and many people who mostly write on Sociology of Religion.

Regan DuCasse

June 21st, 2012

Maggie Gallagher is going on and on and on again about the importance of married biological moms and dads.
Again, not making comparisons with those who come from similar situations to make a conclusion.
But the usual suspects pounce on that like hungry hyenas on carrion.

Repeating the same lies and misinformation and calling it the truth only fools some pretty dumb and lazy people. The difference between OUR threads, and those generated from her Townhall article are remarkably different in who is well informed, and who isn’t.
And who repeats the same stupidity over and over and who doesn’t.
In fact, these conversations in TH haven’t changed in the many years I’ve been reading.
A stupid person can’t get past the same speed bumps and then neither can anyone else, no matter how many times they are presented with facts, answers and experienced people.
So. Weird.


June 21st, 2012

olterigo, LOVE your work. GREAT JOB! Look forward to reading more of your thoughts and observations.


June 22nd, 2012


Thank you. YOU inspired me.


June 22nd, 2012

Recent years have shown the religious right that they don’t have the science to back up their claims, so they went out and bought and paid for some. That it doesn’t even meet the bare requirement that the study itself says must be met is of no consequence. They have their study to footnote.


June 26th, 2012

I respectfully disagree with the claims against Dr. Potter’s study. He very clearly states in his conclusions that once the “transitions” are accounted for, there are not significant differences. I have emailed him (twice, now) about the conservatives co-opting and cherry-picking his research, and he has been courteous and open about the study and its limitations. I don’t think we should fault him for other people misusing his findings.


June 26th, 2012

*no significant differences.


Jim Lippard

July 1st, 2012

Straight Grandmother wrote: ““1990 K Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC
20006-1107 (”

I wonder who else is at 1990 K Street in DC? It seems like an odd address for me for a researcher.”

This is a large office building in D.C. The American Institutes for Research is there (where Potter is), as are offices of the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Highway Administration, and many other companies and organizations.


July 1st, 2012

I agree with you. Potter’s study does NOT show that intact families headed by same gender couples affects the math performance of their children. I am so glad you wrote to him :) :) :)

But on the other hand Ally, I kind of have a niggling question in my mind “What was the purpose of this study and who funded it and why?”

I am worried that we are at the tip of the iceberg of a new effort of NOM to buy HATE Science. NOM, and obviously it IS NOM with the Robert George connections, is finding funding for research now and I don’t remember them ever doing this before. Now it might not flow directly through NOM but Robert George seems to be the point that all dots connect to.And Robert George IS NOM.

Since you have written Potter before would it be to much trouble to ask you to write back, or better yet call him, and find out the background of how this study originated. You know, maybe I am jumping to conclusions here, Ally could you possibly see what you can find out? He is probably on vacation for a couple weeks but if you could call him I would so much be interested in hearing what you learn. Many thanks!


January 24th, 2014

This article grossly misquotes the studies it cites. The study tried to take into place the amount of children raise in homosexual families from birth. It couldn’t due to the 18,000 kids who were found in the screening to be raised by a gay parent only 2 not 2% 2 the number 2 were found to have grown up in gay families since they were born. Read the article yourself and be open to be right or wrong. If you approach a debate presuming you know everything you show how little you know. Read to find truth not prove your point.

Rob Tisinai

January 24th, 2014

Roy, I don’t follow your comment. If you think my article “miquotes the studies it cites,” then please specify the misquote.

Meanwhile, nothing else in your comment contradicts anything I wrote in the article (in fact, it reinforces it!), so I’m not sure what your point is.

Priya Lynn

January 24th, 2014

Yeah, I couldn’t figure out what Roy was getting at either.

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