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Discredited researcher claims that equality will “change” marriage

Timothy Kincaid

June 10th, 2013

Mark Regnerus first came to attention when he published what was described as a study of children of same sex couples based on a national probability sampled population. After review and some careful sleuthing it was discovered that Regnerus’ study was anything but scientific. It was paid for by an advocacy group, released for political impact, “peer reviewed” by people who helped structure the study, and constructed to give a pre-determined outcome.

It claimed to report on a group of people (same-sex couples raising children) based on what turned out to be a sample of three children. It was pretty much the antithesis of research.

But just in case there was any question as to whether Regnerus was motivated by anti-gay political advocacy goals, he has cleared that up by writing an article for the Witherspoon Institute titled “Yes, Marriage Will Change–and Here’s How“.

I won’t bother quoting it, but if you read it you’ll quickly see his intent. He delights that old page out of the anti-gay playbook: quote a gay person as though any gay speaks for all gays. Find any position pondered by a theorist and breathlessly say, “See! See! And it was one of The Gays who said it so don’t blame me.”

Its mostly wild stereotypes about what men are like, what women are like, and how allowing The Gays to marry will lead to open heterosexual marriages. And he knows this because heterosexuals engage in anal sex.

Those who support anti-gay positions will lap it up. But anyone else will likely shrug and say, “This guy doesn’t know much about men, women, or marriage, does he?”

Comments

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Andrew
June 10th, 2013 | LINK

He actually cites a number of references and public speakers in the gay community. And, if we’re honest, we’ll remember that there have always been a vocal number within the gay community who didn’t like the idea of marriage because it was alien to their concept of gay relationships (whatever that means) – the heteronormalization of gay culture.

Folks like Dan Savage have responded with what I think is a perfectly reasonable middle-ground – retaining open and honest relationships, even if the physical isn’t always 100% permanently exclusive. Dan’s partner never wonders where Dan’s going to sleep at night, shall we say, or where his heart lies, or where he calls home.

In an era where spouses are no longer property (making affairs different from someone taking your car for a joy ride), and marriages are expected to endure for decades longer than in the past, and with the implosion of the nuclear family that now requires that spouses take on the roles of best friend, confidant, business partner, co-rearer of children, lover, sexual partner, therapist, career counselor, hostage negotiator, and in many cases co-worker (my parents have worked together for over 25 years now)… not to mention the legalization of divorce… the very character of marriages have changed in ways that have very little to do with gay/straight. Regnerus is honest in pointing out that the acceptance of gay marriage may be a symptom, rather than a cause, which is difficult to disagree with. It’s fair to say that the archaic definitions of marriage were fundamentally different, and not in particularly attractive ways, but modernization comes at a cost. I think it’s a bargain. Not everyone feels that way – it’s a matter of opinion, which is why this debate exists in the first place.

Where Regnerus is dishonest, however, is in failing to note the catastrophically bad job straight people have done with the migration to modern marriage. We’re all aware of the high rate of divorce, but the rate of infidelity among heterosexuals is massively higher. Gays aren’t the only ones making accommodations in their relationships to retain the core of the partnership without suffering “bed death” – hetero’s are doing that quite capably themselves. And, of course, not all gays or straights make such accommodations, but it’s simply unacceptable to leave that out.

Regnerus does not engage in questions around the notion of whether spouses are more or less likely to separate due to physical relations outside the marriage. Nor does he do anything to address the apparent death spiral in the rate of marriages in hetero couples, replaced by medium-term relationships that often include children (recall the staggering recent statistics citing the % of women – majority hetero – in America who are raising children outside a marriage).

And, of course, he does not engage in a conversation about what the exclusivity of a marriage to one group alone does to define that institution for groups for whom marriage is an assumed given (a cheap commodity) versus a precious right fought for (is there a difference? we don’t know because that would require interested researchers).

There are gaps here one could drive a truck through. Those aren’t Regnerus’ fault alone, but it’s a tad irresponsible to speak definitively on the subject as though the data are in, especially when one has just committed one of the most egregious acts of social science fraud in recent memory. It’s an opinion piece, but when one chooses the role of controversial researcher, you imperil your credibility with opinion pieces like this. (And if anyone has confused this with scholarly research, shame on them).

There are so many interesting questions to ask around these issues, questions that require an open mind. But as long as the topic remains radioactive, we’re not going to get that research because there are better ways to build a career than putting your name – and reputation – onto work that’s going to piss off some significant segment of your professional community. What a damned shame.

Ben In Oakland
June 10th, 2013 | LINK

With a 25-33% adultery rate in hetero marriage– and that’s just what people will admit– I think Regnerus is doing what the right wingers always do: trying to pin the blame on gay people for the irresponsibility and misbehavior of straight people.

It’s called scapegoating and they have been doing it to us for 1700 years minimum.

Richard Rush
June 10th, 2013 | LINK

Ben said, “I think Regnerus is doing what the right wingers always do: trying to pin the blame on gay people for the irresponsibility and misbehavior of straight people.”

At one time, being a true Christian meant accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior, but now it means accepting homosexuals as your personal scapegoats.

CPT_Doom
June 10th, 2013 | LINK

Well, there’s one other enormous problem with Regnerus’ logic – it’s irrelevant to the question of equal rights. There are all kinds of hetero families that have higher rates of break-up than other kinds of hetero families. People who have been previously divorced are much more likely to get divorced during a subsequent marriage (hello Newt!), poor people have more unstable relationships, and so on. Yet we don’t base civil rights or the legal status of those types of marriages because statistics tell us nothing about the individuals in a specific marriage. Just because you belong to a group that is more likely to divorce does not mean you have fewer legal rights when you do get married. Just ask Maggie Gallagher, who of course has a family that includes step-parents, half-siblings and absentee baby daddies.

Mark
June 10th, 2013 | LINK

This is an area that I think our sides’ lawyers didn’t press hard enough at oral argument. The Supreme Court has already said it’s unconstitutional to prevent deadbeat dads and imprisoned felons from marrying. Would even Regnerus claim that allowing mass murderers, or people with a demonstrated record of not looking after their kids, harms marriage more than allowing gays and lesbians to marry?

Timothy Kincaid
June 10th, 2013 | LINK

Richard,

Sadly, for too many that’s almost a literal truth.

Lindoro Almaviva
June 10th, 2013 | LINK

It always amazes me how these people throw the “open marriages” tag line, scary quotes an all like it is a direct reaction to marriage equality. Have they ever read the local Craig list’s ads? Stupidity knows no bounds when mixed with bigotry.

Down The Hall
June 10th, 2013 | LINK

Regnerus is the Billy Sol Estes of social science research.

I’ve always found his obsession with teen-aged sexual behavior just a little bit creepy, and his bitter harping about female infidelity salaciously telling.

He’s young, arrogant, and both morally and intelletually brittle. His story hasn’t completely played out. Look for a juicy ending.

Josh
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

“But anyone else will likely shrug and say, “This guy doesn’t know much about men, women, or marriage, does he?””

No, that wasn’t my reaction. My actual reaction was that he makes a lot of fair points; misses a few big, obvious ones; uses some abysmal reasoning in a couple key places; and never explicitly argues against same-sex marriage.

So what if “monogamish” becomes more popular, why should I care? He never says. How does the magnitude of any gay marriage-specific effects compare to other effects, even in theory? That’s key to making his point, but he pretty much ignores it.

It’s always puzzled me when people make this argument why they quote surveys of gay men on the prevalence of open relationships. That statistic is utterly irrelevant to the argument: what matters is what straight men think, not what gay men do. This whole effect is supposed to be based on how straight men think and behave, but straight men aren’t surveyed or tested in any meaningful way. Why am I supposed to buy such an argument? Seriously, you can’t ask 1000 straight men, “has your conception of gay male relationships made you contemplate having an open relationship?” and the like? And you get paid to do this sort of thing?

The thing I found most annoying was how he implies things are bad without explicitly judging them: “Perhaps sameness and fairness, however represented, have their unintended consequences”; “…[boyfriends may press women for] permission to stray without jeopardizing their primary relationship”; “…Dan Savage can call nine extramarital partners being monogamish rather than serial cheating.” As if “unintended consequences”, “permission to stray”, and “serial cheating” aren’t loaded phrases.

In the end I just don’t think it’s terribly important to straight people how the gays do things. I imagine the rest of our culture pretty much drowns out whatever effects we have on straight marriage.

Matt
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

“Its mostly wild stereotypes about what men are like, what women are like, and how allowing The Gays to marry will lead to open heterosexual marriages.”

Well, let’s take two of its assertions and examine them.

1) Female couples are (much) more likely to break up than heterosexual couples.

Isn’t this, you know, *true*? You claim it’s a “wild stereotype.” But he provides actual evidence for his claim. You pre-emptively relieve yourself of the responsibility of refuting him–how convenient!

You seem to be taking the approach that because Regnerus is anti-gay marriage, we *know* that everything he says is a lie, and we can just point and snicker. That is not an approach up to the usual caliber of your writing.

2) Gay male couples are much more likely to opt out of monogamy.

Again, isn’t this simply *true*? Don’t some of the most vocal and visible gay men out there, like Dan Savage, *advocate* for this? Regnerus cites some statistics, which may be questionable, but which *Dan Savage* certainly accepts–he’s said that an unwillingness to be monogamous is “part of the gay experience.” And if they are questionable statistics, show how they’re questionable!

As for the commenters who are noting the non-monogamy but justifying it by claiming that some percentage of straight people cheat — there’s a big difference between *trying* to be faithful and slipping up once or twice over the course of a marriage, and basically coming to an arrangement wherein you spend years, even decades of your life trolling on Grindr or craigslist for random sex, while your primary partner does likewise. (Spend a non-negligible amount of time on any gay sex app or hookup app or craigslist and you’ll see that this really is what plenty of gay male couples do.) Every time you do this, you are dipping back into a pool in which 20% (more in some areas) of your potential partners are HIV-positive, including 1-in-5 of them who don’t know it, and you are bringing that risk back into your primary relationship. How loving! How caring and forward-thinking and ennobling! I see this misleading conflation of straight extramarital sex and gay male extra-marital or extra-primary-relationship sex all the time. But what are being presented as the same thing are not at all the same thing–we can see in all kinds of statistics, including sexual health, drug use & sex, alcohol & sex, etc., that there really is a different sexual culture among (some) gay men than there is among straight people. This *should* be a reason for, you know, *changing* the poisonous and destructive (check out the epidemiology statistics if you don’t believe me) sexual cultures that exist among too many gay men, but instead we get self-serving justifications and distortions and a constant determination to shift the focus back to conservative Christians who couldn’t in their wildest dreams hurt us as badly as we are hurting each other.

Mr. Kincaid, you are one of the few gay writers out there who actually face unpleasant facts–sometimes. This particular post does not do that. We need more writers who do this, and we need the writers who do this to do it as much as possible.

Matt
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

“Folks like Dan Savage have responded with what I think is a perfectly reasonable middle-ground – retaining open and honest relationships, even if the physical isn’t always 100% permanently exclusive. Dan’s partner never wonders where Dan’s going to sleep at night, shall we say, or where his heart lies, or where he calls home.”

From a pure public-health perspective, a strong norm of monogamy and fidelity, even if it’s hard to maintain, *even* if some percentage of people will cheat, is better than normalization of open relationships, which are far more likely to involve regular extramarital sex than they are to involve “only-9-times-in-a-half-decade-or-so” relatively low numbers like Savage’s.

It’s misleading and deceptive to compare the number of heterosexuals who have *ever* cheated in their marriages to the numbers of gay men who have open relationships. The heterosexual numbers are far more likely to reflect a one-time mess-up that the cheating partner regrets, whereas the gay male couples have explicit permission to hunt for sex with outsiders as much as possible and in many cases regularly spend time trolling location-based sex apps, craigslist, or even bathhouses. These are not the same things.

Dan’s partner may not have to wonder about the things that you name (though a monogamous relationship would solve those problems, too) but Dan’s partner should worry about the fact that every dip back into the mass pool of gay men involves dipping back into a pool in which 20% of the potential sex partners are infected with HIV, including 1-in-5 who don’t know it, and in which those numbers are rising. But, you know, whatever — Dan’s partner needs to learn to deal with that, because Dan wants to have sex with other people, and that’s what’s important.

Every discussion of nonmonogamy and the *normalization* of nonmonogamy that exists among gay men needs to start and end with the epidemiology statistics. We (gay men in the U.S.) have the sexual health outcomes of a Third World country, despite the fact that we live in the richest country in the world and despite the fact that we’ve known about the dangers of our sexual culture for 30 years now. The NYT just did an article about HIV among the middle-aged, including these facts which nobody, but nobody, ever deals with honestly: a) while we have drugs that can keep those with HIV from developing AIDS, less than ONE-THIRD of HIV-infected Americans, IN 2013, are currently controlling their infections with such drugs; and b) the HIV in one’s bloodstream can become resistant to ALL of the drugs currently out there, and this DOES happen to some people. HIV is still one of the top killers of young black men in the U.S. today — not 1991, but today.

Every single discussion of nonmonogamy among gay men that doesn’t deal with the issue of the public health disaster that has been ongoing since the early 80s among us deserves to be dismissed as propaganda.

Timothy Kincaid
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Matt,

Thank you for the kind words.

But in this instance, I don’t agree with you about what is and what is not an unpleasant truth.

It may be true that lesbians separate more frequently than heterosexuals and it may be true that gay men are less committed to monogamy. But I don’t know either of these to be true.

I know that these are fairly common assumptions. I know that a number of theorists postulate these ideas. I know that high visibility gay people may give these impressions or even, ala Dan Savage, believe them to be true. But I don’t think that there has been real research that is representative or definitive.

Answering questions about gay people is difficult due to a great many factors including the size of our community, its wide diversity, the degree to which gay people are out, and even the language we use.

I know guys in open relationships and guys in monogamous relationships. But even those definitions as slippery.

I had two conversations about “open relationships” this weekend.

One involved a guy who is in agreement with his partner that they will tell each other if they stray and it’s not that big of a deal. But it hasn’t come up yet. While that may be “non-monogamous” in theory, it’s not exactly in application.

The other just agreed to have an “open relationship” because it’s too new and going too fast. He was distraught.

While these both fit Regnerus’ open relationship category, neither really is what he implies is indicative of gay men.

His stereotypes may have some truth. They may even, I suppose, have a lot of truth. But they are still just stereotypes, not facts.

Jonathan
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Thanks, Tim.

My husband and I have an “open” relationship that is effectively just a label. It was the result of cheating early in our relationship, and since we agreed that it was ok to stray with permission (6 years ago) neither of us have found it necessary to do so. From frank discussions with friends we know we are not the only ones in this situation. It seems most of the appeal of the forbidden fruit is in the prohibition itself.

And the fact that “Matt” (Mark?) repeatedly refers to Terry as Dan’s partner instead of his husband or spouse makes it clear that he has a fundamental resistance to accepting reality. That’s not an ideal starting point for a rational discussion.

Priya Lynn
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Josh said “I imagine the rest of our culture pretty much drowns out whatever effects we have on straight marriage.”.

A great point that doesn’t get made often enough. Assuming there was marriage equality across the U.S. 95% of all the marriages people would witness would be the heterosexual “ideal” the anti-gays rant about. Its an absurd idea that the rare marriage that is different from what people almost always see will significantly affect people’s view of marriage in general.

Timothy Kincaid
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Josh and Priya Lynn,

You’re forgetting the super-duper secret special magic powers of Teh Gheys!! Not only do Teh Gheys control hollywood and the media (and bring on earthquakes and hurricanes) but they can instantly destroy the marriages of the 95% around them.

Them’s powerful, they is.

Priya Lynn
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Damn! I forgot about that. That’s it, I’m opposed to marriage equality.

Matt
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

It may be true that lesbians separate more frequently than heterosexuals and it may be true that gay men are less committed to monogamy. But I don’t know either of these to be true.

You’re a numbers guy, right? And I’m guessing that you pride yourself on having some amount of intellectual curiosity. Social science is imperfect, certainly, but we’ve got some numbers to work with, plus we have the ability to observe the world around us.

When it comes to, say, public health, I would hope we wouldn’t take your attitude, which seems to boil down to “people are complicated, so who can know anything?” Yeah, the gay community is diverse, because it’s made up of people. So what? This attitude amounts to willfully choosing to be ignorant about what’s going on around you.

Regnerus provided numbers. If those numbers are problematic, ::tell us how.:: You don’t think there has been “real research.” Well, apparently the “real research” will be done by people like Regnerus, since we are so uninterested in finding out the truth!

If we were to really look — at ourselves — what might we see? Go pore over the STDs stats some more. It’s sobering and bracing to really see some numbers. The Centers for Disease Control numbers are a good start, but also enlightening are the numbers that HIV/AIDS and gay health orgs submit when seeking funding from state and federal gov’t and other sources. Another activity worth doing is to spend some time looking through grindr profiles, craigslist posts, manhunt profiles, etc. Look at how many posters say they’re in open relationships. Look at how many, especially on craigslist, openly solicit unprotected sex or sex while on meth. Look around! You can observe a lot just by watching. Of course these people don’t represent all gay men. My hope is that they represent the smallest percentage possible. But they sure are out there, and all we have to do is look at the health outcomes we experience to know that this sure doesn’t appear to reflect a marginal number of gay men. Let’s start dealing with this stuff! Come on, man! This–the poisonous sexual culture that has survived even the worst of the AIDS epidemic and is still wrecking too many lives– is the *real* battle.

“His stereotypes may have some truth. They may even, I suppose, have a lot of truth. But they are still just stereotypes, not facts.”

Okay, so there’s your distinction– They may have “a lot of truth,” but are still just “stereotypes, not facts.”

You are trying to pull a rhetorical maneuver that I think is generally beneath you– suggesting that something must be true of every single case, or else it is just plain false.

If I say that “men are generally taller than women,” and you point to Brittney Griner, you haven’t proven me wrong. And my statement doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as a “stereotype” and thus as meaningless, or worse, evil. There is “a lot of truth” there. Well, are we interested in truth, or not? Are we interested in truth even when it suggests that there are things *we*, as gay men, need to do to make things better for *ourselves* and other gay men, and that not everything is the fault of evil conservative Christians or whatever?

Anecdotal accounts of people’s “open” relationships that don’t actually involve sex outside the primary relationship are encouraging, but like I pointed out earlier, one need only spend a cursory amount of time on grindr, craigslist, and other sex/hookup app/sites to see that plenty of people in these kinds of relationships are in fact spending quite a lot of time looking for other sexual outlets. We have normalized a lifestyle that involves having frequent sex with people you don’t know and who don’t care about you for years, even decades–not everybody does it, but an awful lot do. *Any* group of people who were exposed to such degrading conditions and to such a degraded understanding of their own self-worth, who were exposed to a culture that normalized this so thoroughly, would have really bad health outcomes, too. We’ve gotta start fighting this garbage! You care about truth, don’t you? How can you write something that says that something might have a lot of truth, but that it doesn’t matter? Do you care about truth, or do you care about keeping nice with people like Dan Savage?

CPT_Doom
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Matt – Regnerus found some specific data, the provenance of which is unknown, and the reliability of which (that is, will it be replicated in other societies and cultures? we don’t know) is unproven. Given Regnerus’ recent history, we all should be more than willing to doubt his sources.

More importantly, his numbers are irrelevant. So what if lesbian couples are more likely to divorce than straight couples? Protestants are more likely to divorce than Catholics, but we don’t deny Protestants the right to marry.

As for monogamy, we don’t know if the percentage of open gay male relationships is greater or less than the number of open straight relationships, both because the question is rarely asked, and because most swingers don’t broadcast their lifestyle to the general public. However, the long tradition of monogamy required only of women in marriage is well established. One need only look at the number of bastard children of royalty throughout history to know that men have never been required to be monogamous in marriage. One only need look at a marriage like the Clintons to know that serial nonmonogamy is not necessarily the death knell to a marriage (unless the man involved is named Gingrich, of course).

Nothing you’ve talked about and nothing that Regnerus brought up is a logical basis for denying civil rights. You don’t know me, don’t know what kind of marriage I might one day have, and therefore cannot judge me by any data.

Shannon Spencer Fox
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Matt,

CPT_Doom somewhat touched on the point I was thinking of myself, but I’ll ask it outright:

Honestly, all this data about disease-rates and non-monogomy among same-sex couples… what, if anything, does this have to do with the drive for marriage equality?

Priya Lynn
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Yeah Matt, what, if anything, does this have to do with the drive for marriage equality?

Matt
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

CPT_Doom and Shannon:

Because this stuff matters to *us.*

Not everything is about whether we beat those conservative Christian meanies and claim victory on the marriage issue.

I’m a very strong supporter of gay marriage–strong enough that I tied the knot myself!

But these issues — issues of health, of the sexual culture we have created, of what we normalize and legitimize–affect us greatly. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 20% of gay and bi men in the U.S. are infected with HIV, and the numbers are *rising* among gay and bi men, even though they are falling among all other risk groups. In my line of work, I see the very real consequences of this stuff constantly. HIV among the poor is still enough to derail someone’s life forever (and among the non-poor, it often is, too). People still die of AIDS–here in the U.S. And we are not making progress in battling it — instead, we are seeing, among some particularly vocal gay men, efforts to normalize (they say “destigmatize”) HIV and pretend it’s just something that happens–nobody’s fault– and that the only real problem with it is that people judge those who are HIV-positive and won’t have sex with them. Because we all deserve the largest possible pool of sex partners available! (See how this is connected to the issue of normalization of nonmonogamy?)

If we secure marriage rights, but continue normalizing the disastrous sexual cultures that date back to the 1970s (as depicted in, say, Larry Kramer’s “Faggots” or Andrew Holleran’s “Dancer From the Dance,”) then we will not really have “won.” Because we have the power to hurt each other far more than Jerry Falwell could do even in his wildest dreams. Like I said, rates are rising — if we reach the point where 1 in 3 gay men have HIV, where gay men will be as likely as not to become infected over the course of their lifetimes, are we going to pretend that that doesn’t matter because we are turning the tide on the gay marriage issue? This stuff matters. Running everything through a calculus of “Will this help or hurt the gay marriage cause to talk about this publicly?” hurts gay people! We need to be talking about this stuff.

That is the insight that matters — the understanding that creating a better future is not just about eradicating the nasty homophobia of the evil straight people that oppress us. I understand why gay people focus so much on that battle — because it allows us to see the world as made up of the good people vs. the evil bad people, who are not us, and suggests that a better world will come by defeating them and changing them. The issue of our sexual culture and its negative outcomes is more fraught — because here we must confront our own problems, our own weaknesses, our own failures. Here we must change *ourselves*. And who wants to do that! Here we have to acknowledge that the line between right and wrong, good and evil cuts through our own human hearts.

“So what if lesbian couples are more likely to divorce than straight couples?”

Do you really believe that divorce doesn’t matter? Do you really believe that STD rates don’t matter? Generally, I think people find that, when they experience such things, it matters to them! I am a gay man; I certainly think it’s better to know the actual STD stats and outcomes of people with HIV than not to know! I’m glad to know these outcomes, as someone who wants to stay healthy, who wants to have a long and fulfilling life with the man I love. And if the numbers are wrong, I want to know that, too. And I want to think about how to *change* them, not bury my head in the sand and say “we can’t know anything, there are always exceptions, la la la.” This whole train of argument — “It doesn’t matter what the statistics say, they don’t matter, they’re not true in every single case so they don’t matter” — is, as I’ve noted before, a willful decision to be ignorant. It’s so anti-scientific and deliberately obtuse that it boggles the mind. I’m trying to imagine *any* approach to public policy that could possibly start from the attitude of “we can’t know anything about general trends and practices, and numbers don’t matter.” What a poisonous and destructive approach to life!

The trends that Regnerus is noting may be either wrong or exaggerated — hopefully — but the correct response is not to claim that divorce doesn’t matter (!) or that rates of HIV and AIDS 44 times higher than among straight people doesn’t matter (!) What an insane position to argue from!

Timothy Kincaid
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Matt,

I’m enjoying reading the conversation.

However, I do want to correct one number. I believe the percentage of gay men infected with the HIV virus is roughly 12%, not 20% (You have to get down into the fine print to read this).

And perhaps it would be a bit more accurate to say that the position is not “we can know nothing” and more “we do not currently know and neither does Regnerus”.

I am not at all suggesting your concerns are not valid. They are. But valid concerns need not be the same as accepting Regnerus’ stereotypes.

Priya Lynn
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Matt, no one said that divorce doesn’t matter, the point is none of this is a justification for denying gays and lesbians the right to marry. Nothing you’ve said changes that fact. Its dishonest for Regnerus to bring this up as though its a justification and its counter-productive for you to play his game while pretending you’re not.

As gay acceptance has increased and legal recognition of gay relationships has developed the degree of gay promiscuity and rates of STDs has dropped.

This whole gay relationships are short/promiscuous thing is a red herring in terms of marriage equality.

If you want to address it by all means do so, but don’t pretend a discussion on marriage equality is the place to do so.

Frank
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Matt, you said: “Regnerus provided numbers. If those numbers are problematic, ::tell us how.::”

For the record, in 2010 Timothy did an exhaustive analysis of one of the sources of “numbers” Regnerus cites twice in this piece. Here you go:

http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2010/02/10/20202

Richard Rush
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Shannon Spencer Fox said, “Honestly, all this data about disease-rates and non-monogamy among same-sex couples… what, if anything, does this have to do with the drive for marriage equality?”

If anything, these issues are arguments for marriage equality, not against it. In the straight world, when have people ever said that the proper response to higher rates of STDs and non-monogamy should be less marriage? But yet that’s exactly the position they take for us.

Ben in Oakland
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Matt, I find your whole rant problematic.

We haven’t normalized anonymous sex–centuries of repression did. That’s the gay male culture we inherited.

Going to all of the hookup sites for data. That’s like going to obituary columns and making conclusions about the people who die. back when I was single, I can’t tell you the number of allegedly heterosexual men I met who were out there, trolling for dick.

13% of gay men have HIV. I agree, it’s entirely too many. But 87% don’t.

We have a different set of problems than heterosexuals, though there is some intersection. The biggest problem both share is a lack of responsible sexuality. 25-33 % of hetero marriages are adulterous,can’t those are just the ones that will admit it to a complete stranger.

I do think we have to look at the source of numbers. I wouldn’t trust regnerus to tell me the actual truth; he’s already admitted he’s an ideologue. His study and his conclusions are ideology, not fact, even though he has lots and lots and lots of number, even some good numbers,

Matt
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Mr. Kincaid, I appreciate the work you have done in the past to examine the numbers that get put out. That’s precisely the kind of thing we need more of! I am aware of the two posts you have published, regarding a) the prevalence of nonmonogamy among gay male couples and b) the percentage of gay men who are HIV positive. It’s really great to see someone willing to roll up his sleeves and actually tackle data like that.

That said, I know that the gay health orgs in the city I live in (Austin) use the 20% figure, not 12%, as you gave. The CDC does say 20% — yes, it’s based on a 21-city assessment, but that is the best data they have. Your number-crunching to yield 12% is based on different assumptions from what the CDC uses. It’s also a few years out of date (it looks like you used 2005 data) and since infection rates have been either stable or rising then, plus HIV-infected individuals do not die at the same rate as new infections are diagnosed, the numbers are certain to be higher now. I think the CDC’s numbers are closer to the ground and I am more inclined to trust them, but at the same time I definitely appreciate you showing your work.

The numbers regarding nonmonogamy I am more inclined to question, and your critique of those numbers, I think, is a very welcome one. One of the things I think is worth pointing out is that you specifically note that the study that yielded the high numbers of nonmonogamous couples was a study with a *large number of HIV positive gay men.* I think that correlation is telling. You yourself gave it as a reason to mistrust the study.

That said, the phenomenon of “open relationships” among gay men is a real thing. One has only to open one’s eyes to notice it. Again: you can observe a lot of things just by watching. It *is* highly normalized and legitimized, and while Regnerus may be totally wrong about its prevalence, he certainly didn’t dream it up!

You wrote that his piece is “mostly wild stereotypes,” and then, when I commented, you said the piece may even have “a lot of truth.” I do not think “mostly wild stereotypes” and “a lot of truth” are the same thing. And I do not think it helps us ::as gay men:: to pretend that they are the same thing.

“As gay acceptance has increased and legal recognition of gay relationships has developed the degree of gay promiscuity and rates of STDs has dropped.”

Well, these things are always over-determined, I know, but I think the story you’re telling is debatable at best. As I’ve been pointing out I don’t know how many times, HIV rates are actually rising among gay and bi men even though they’re falling among all other risk groups. And do you really think apps like grindr are encouraging less casual/anonymous sex? I don’t. Things may not be as bad as they were in the ’80s, but they are not so great. A recent study found that half of location-based sex app users don’t use condoms, and indeed condom use is down from where it was in the 90s. And you barely have to skim the surface of the internet to discover that there are a large number of vocal gay men who a) want to normalize not even wearing a condom! and b) want to “destigmatize” HIV as a “chronic, manageable condition.” Which it is only for a lucky and often privileged few. These people are all over the place and they represent a far greater threat to gay men than Regnerus does. We are sitting on a ticking time bomb of another AIDS-scale epidemic — I know nobody pays attention to those CDC alerts about spreading STDs becoming resistant to all antibiotics, but when it happens, it’s going to hit us first. And we just ignore it, and tell ourselves comforting untruths.

Timothy Kincaid
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Matt,

The CDC uses 20% as their urban number and in the fine print explain that it’s closer to 12% nationally (I did an analysis on this when it came out and now I’m having trouble finding it). Austin probably rightly uses an urban number as it is the relevant one for them.

And if you prefer, we can agree that perhaps “wild” might be too strong of an adjective. Nevertheless, I think “mostly stereotypes” is an accurate assessment of his piece.

Timothy Kincaid
June 11th, 2013 | LINK

Ah, found it.

My commentary on the CDC Report noted that it said:

Finally, these findings are limited to men who frequented MSM-identified venues (most of which were bars [45%] and dance clubs [22%]) during the survey period in 21 [metropolitan statistical areas] with high AIDS prevalence; the results are not representative of all MSM. A lower HIV prevalence (11.8%) has been reported among MSM in the general U.S. population.

But I think your point isn’t really about 20% v. 12% and your concerns are valid either way.

Andrew
June 12th, 2013 | LINK

WTF? How are people concluding that heterosexual straying is a one-off event as compared to homo’s where apparently open discussion and carefully negotiated terms to a relationship equals being a total slut with no cognizance of safe sex practices (Dan Savage “dipping” into the STD pool? My guess is that the boy gloves up if / when he puts his thingy elsewhere than his husband… because he’s a sex educator and stuff.) As to the “one-off” superior behavior of hetero’s… References please.

Let’s start at the beginning. I was possibly the MOST sexually conservative person I knew in college. My hetero friends were busy dating 4-5 girls/guys at the same time, having sex with strangers in closets, having sex with other people’s spouses and/or girlfriends and/or students, getting pregnant, having abortions, getting STD’s and basically behaving promiscuously. I’m not condemning them, I’m just making the point. I wasn’t dating anyone, so I didn’t have sex (no, seriously). Let alone with strangers. In a closet. Who were married to someone else. And no, that didn’t just happen once. I went to a really fun school.

As to a “strong norm of monogamy” – even when “hard to maintain”… the problem with that is that it presents a specific single ideal that precludes – even makes morally unacceptable – honest negotiations within a marriage that reflect an honest exploration of needs. And that’s the starting point to infidelity, or almost as likely, “get me out of here” divorces. Nothing says that those negotiations can’t result in “we choose monogamy” decisions, but the conversation is critical. Infidelity that occurs outside negotiated boundaries is more likely to occur with *no* rules, because that is their nature – secretive, taboo, and entirely out-of-bounds. Even if non-ideal, couples who negotiate what is and is not acceptable are more likely to be successful, and are more likely to have intermediate rules – like safe sex requirements – that are followed.

More about hetero’s and their so-called “one-off” behavior…

I was born to a woman out of wedlock, who was born to a woman who’s first child was conceived out of wedlock. My aunt has had more abortions than she’s had children, and she’s just not that atypical. Rather than cheat in her marriage (although she did), she mostly engaged in serial relationships outside marriage with a large number of men, so that none of her 5 children have the same 2 parents. We took up a family collection for her tubal ligation. Oh, and her second husband died of AIDS. She and her children were very fortunately spared.

Also, without getting into specifics, I have worked in a “conservative” environment where sexual promiscuity in the office was rampant, including cheating, multiple allegations of (married) senior management boffing the staff – which is fascinating given their loud declarations of Christianity and a Christian lifestyle.

Here are some interesting stats from a fairly neutral site (http://www.infidelityfacts.com/index.html), although I’d like to see their scholarly references (which you can get if you ask):
* Percentage of marriages that end in divorce in America: 53%
* Percentage of marriages where one or both spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional: 41%
* Percentage of men who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had: 57%
* Percentage of women who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had: 54%
* Percentage of men and women who admit to having an affair with a co-worker: 36%
* Percentage of men and women who admit to infidelity on business trips: 36%
* Percentage of men and women who admit to infidelity (emotional or physical) with a brother-in-law or sister-in-law: 17%
* Average length of an affair: 2 years
* Percentage of marriages that last after an affair has been admitted to or discovered: 31%
* Percentage of men who say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught: 74%
* Percentage of women who say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught: 68%

So, no, I’m more than prepared to differentiate between those gays (not all gays. or even most gays – we need numbers) who embrace discussions concerning reasonable and reality-based relationship boundaries against heteros who aspire to perfect monogamy (because anything else would be shameful), but who nonetheless engage in profligate out-of-bounds risky and often actionable behavior that’s entirely outside the boundaries of discussion and thereby cheats emotionally as well as physically on their partner – something equally if not more devastating to a relationship.

Just to be controversial: Where gay men end up with HIV, hetero’s get pregnant, unexpectedly, and they do it in massive numbers. It’s a medical condition of a different order, obviously, although unwanted children have a staggering impact on economics just like HIV does, given that it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise a child, and the outcomes for lower socioeconomic-bracketed children in unplanned families are not great. Considering the incarceration rates and their attendant costs, the impact of fractured families on crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and the ultimate costs to government, insurance, and business, etc… I would really need to see numbers to be convinced that it’s not arguable that unwanted pregnancy and the concomitant socioeconomic disruptions dwarf – in aggregate – the HIV crisis in America from a financial point of view.

If you’re wondering about the rises in HIV infections, IMHO, it’s a question of the upcoming generations never seeing what many of us witnessed in the 80’s and 90’s – AIDS as a death sentence. Modern HIV is perceived as a chronic condition, and education / prevention dollars have dropped into the floor, as has media coverage. All of that alters the prioritization and risk calculation in people’s minds relative to condom usage.

However, that may or may not be related to promiscuity, which is the operative question here, since various sexual practices are more or less prone to conveying the virus. Gay men are simply far more likely to transmit HIV to one another than are hetero couples, as my seronegative aunt and cousins can readily attest.

At the end of the day, the fundamental problem with Regnerus is that he’s already been caught in a well-funded, slickly packaged very elaborately concocted, staged, “vetted” and extremely public lie with the sole purpose of altering public opinion on the basis of false data. And he’s not even been very good at defending it, or pretending that it’s anything but. So when he cites numbers or quotes people, one can quite reasonably assume he’s cherry-picked his numbers, or misrepresented the findings. Because that’s what he does. So yes, he has earned the right to be dismissed. Because that’s what happens to academics who publish fraudulent papers.

Richard Rush
June 12th, 2013 | LINK

I think today’s “comment” by Andrew is so excellent that it should be published as a stand-alone posting. I’m trying to think of a title for it – perhaps, “Heterosexuality: The Gold Standard of Human Relationships.”

Ben in Oakland
June 12th, 2013 | LINK

Andrew, thanks for saying what I was trying to say, with far greater authority.

Priya Lynn
June 12th, 2013 | LINK

Thanks for the stats Andrew.

Nathaniel
June 12th, 2013 | LINK

Andrew has indeed given us a masterpiece of a response. I think it does a good job of highlighting the two very different discussions going on here – the one about equality and the other about public health. Both are important, but the trick is how the numbers are used. We reject them being used as bars against equality, for a variety of reasons that have been well stated. They can also be used to inform issues of public health. The problem with trying to address public health with these numbers (aside from questions of accuracy) is that they don’t tell us the why’s. As Andrew pointed out, open relationships are not necessarily the problem. I often wonder how the stigma still attached to homosexual relationships (particularly in some sub-cultures) contributes to STD/HIV rates in MSMs. This is a complex issue that requires complex analyses and solutions. Simply condemning gay men for having higher rates of open relationships does nothing to curb new infections. Indeed, even if open gay relationships were more common than open straight relationships, this does not actually inform us about the causes of differences in infection rates in these populations. Ultimately, while the gay community has a lot of cultural shit to work through, that was not Regnerus’ topic/point, so it could not have been the focus of Mr. Kincaid in this article.

Andrew
June 12th, 2013 | LINK

I’m a frustrated wanna-be stand-up with severe social anxiety disorder. That said, I’m fortunate enough to have rich material to draw on – not one piece of that was made up.

Here’s the thing. People – straight people, gay people, gay people who pretend to be straight people, hetero couples who hit on their gay co-workers (but thanks for paying for the tickets)… men, women, white, black, orange, and blue – people are freaks.

You just have to scratch the surface, most of the time.

Some do a great job of walking their walk, a lot don’t – one look at Craigslist will tell you this. When people start to lay down unrealistic expectations of human nature, it makes my skin itch.

So when Regnerus uses his stereotypes and cherry-picked (or made-up) stories and numbers as a set of assumptions to set up gay marriage as an intrinsic evil, it kind of makes me want to barf.

Hetero people make accommodations in their marriages (Hillary). Or they turn a blind eye. Or they manage to lie convincingly to their partner (Sanford)… until they get caught. Why? Because they’re people.

So when my homo brethren / sistren (okay, that’s not a word) condemn the likes of Dan Savage for actually having an honest and – for him & his husband – realistic relationship, it kind of pisses me off. I mean, we have enough folks taking holier-than-thou shots at us from the other side, do we really need to snipe at each other? Or are we so hungry to be the Brady Bunch (note: second marriage on both of those parents)… to be palatable to the hetero majority that anyone who doesn’t conform, and who makes the mistake of being clear and honest about that (thank you Dan) instead of Hiking the Appalachian Trail should be pilloried as the cause of the spread of HIV???

Ben In Oakland
June 12th, 2013 | LINK

Andrew, I’m 100% in agreement. nothing pisses me off more than heteros and wanna-be-heteros telling me I need to conform to imaginary hetero standards in order to be treated like a human being, when they won’t conform to those standards themselves.

StraightGrandmother
June 12th, 2013 | LINK

Wow Andrew, your response was a masterpiece.

It is rather bold of Regnerus to say that straight men will observe gay marriages and say to their wives, “Honey buns if the gays can do it why not me too?”

That is the real crux of Regnerus’ argument. He builds up to it by pulling out some statistics says that gay men have less monogamous relationships. All of that is a build up to his central point. And frankly I find his central point laughable, simply laughable.

First off there are not that many of you, maybe 3% to 4% 100% gay. AND not EVERY gay couple DOES have a non-monogamist relationship.

Take a neighborhood with 100 houses. 4 houses have gay couples residents. Let’s go overboard and say even 50% are non monogamist so that is 2 houses. How likely IS it those those 2 gay non monogamist couples are HIGHLY influencing the other 98 couples in the neighborhood?

And not only that but in those other 98 houses there is plenty of straight cheating going on. YET we are going to hang the *demise of Civil Marriage as we know it,* on the heads of those two non monogamist gay couples in a neighborhood of 100 homes? It’s ridiculous if you really think about it. Maybe, maybe maybe to stretch it IF you had higher population numbers maybe maybe maybe his point would have a shred of validity to it. Like if you were 25% of the population or something.

You can’t tell me that with the small number of gay men, and the even fewer numbers of gay men who choose to partner in an open relationship, is gonna affect *in any significant way* the other 98%. Regnerus is simply taking another opportunity to shame sexual minorities. To pick on you, to blame you for the evils of the world. I’m not buying it.

Eric in Oakland
June 13th, 2013 | LINK

It deserves to be repeated that most of the data on gay and lesbian relationships involve less stable forms than marriage. If straight marriages happen to be more healthy and stable than gay non-marital relationships, that says more about the type of relationship than the orientation of the couples.

Regnerus really seems to be a one trick pony. His child rearing study was largely based on this deliberate confusion (relationship status with orientation) and this new argument relies heavily on the same tactic.

Patrick C
June 13th, 2013 | LINK

Matt earlier said to look at Craigslist to see all the open relationships. I looked at it and guess what I found – a lot of heterosexually married men cheating on their wives. It certainly did not appear to be “slipping up” one time but to be deliberate cheating, and I’m guessing it to be regular and repeated.

Matt assumes the best of heterosexuals and the worst of gays. That tells me everything I need to know.

Richard Rush
June 13th, 2013 | LINK

StraightGrandmother said, “. . . How likely IS it those those 2 gay non monogamist couples are HIGHLY influencing the other 98 couples in the neighborhood?”

Very likely. You see, heterosexual men are so ravenously randy, so easily led astray, and so dependent on role models for any hope of restraint, that just becoming aware of those two non-monogamist gay couples is enough to open the floodgates. This is why winning the war on gay marriage is essential for the survival of civilization. If gay people had any decency they would happily surrender the quality of their lives in order to help raise the moral standards of straight people.

Priya Lynn
June 13th, 2013 | LINK

Great explanation Straightgrandmother, very compelling.

Andrew
June 14th, 2013 | LINK

Eric, I had your thought on the way to the bathroom at 4 in the morning the other day (what a sad, sad existence I clearly lead)… until gays have access to equal marriage, we aren’t talking apples to apples, are we.

Because otherwise, we’re talking about how a person treats their girlfriend relative to how a person treats their wife. And, honestly, that’s different.

If you read Andrew Sullivan’s book Virtually Normal he speaks to this – that low expectations are met with low results – and that if you relegate gays to insecure unofficial relationships, you’re more likely to get the kind of behavior that lower expectations entails.

Now we’re dangerously back into the territory of telling people how to define their marriages, but, and I think this is fair to say, doing otherwise on the gay marriage front leaves prohibitionist heteros talking out both sides of their mouths, and leverage logical loops to justify their case.

ZRAinSWVA
June 14th, 2013 | LINK

Andrew wrote, “Because otherwise, we’re talking about how a person treats their girlfriend relative to how a person treats their wife. And, honestly, that’s different.”

Clap…Clap…Clap…

So right.

Thank you.

sue jeffers
June 17th, 2013 | LINK

I couldn’t find any science in his writing, and he repeats the pattern found in his “new family structure study” – admitting that a method is invalid, then using that same method to “prove” his opinions. if i had such a hack for a professor i’d be pretty pissed. if the students in his dept are lucky he spends most of his time conducting “research” and not “teaching”

Nick
June 18th, 2013 | LINK

Is Mark Regnerus shooting to be the Anita Bryant of the 2000’s ??

And The University of Texas at Austin Sociology Department hired this guy !!

Scott Rose
August 1st, 2013 | LINK

Regnerus doesn’t even report correctly on what has happened in the past, and you’re going to pay attention to his projections for the future?

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