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Judge Friedman on Mark Regnerus

Timothy Kincaid

March 25th, 2014

The Michigan trial on the constitutionality of excluding same-sex couples from the rights and responsibilities of marriage was (after Hawaii and California) only the third case to present and try the facts presented by the various sides. And, as such, the ruling by Judge Friedman was important not just for finding the ban unconstitutional but also in its measure of the merits of the arguments presented.

Particularly interesting was US District Court Judge Bernard Friedman’s opinion on the arguments presented by star witness Mark Regnerus, whose “study” comparing children raised in intact heterosexual families to, well, something else, has been touted by anti-gays as their smoking gun.

It’s a bit lengthy, but here it is in its entirety:

In defense of their asserted justifications for the MMA, the state defendants first called sociologist Mark Regnerus. Regnerus’s testimony focused on the results of his 2012 “New Family Structures Study” (“NFSS”), a survey data collection project that was formulated to assess adult outcomes of children who reported that one of their parents had been in a “romantic relationship with someone of the same-sex” during the respondents’ childhood years. Of the 15,000 participants ranging in age from 18 to 39, 248 of them reported that one of their parents had been in such a romantic relationship. From this sample, 175 reported that their mother had a same-sex romantic relationship while 73 reported that their father had been romantically involved with another man. Regnerus then compared the adult outcomes of these two subgroups with another set of participants who were raised by intact biological parents. The outcomes of these groups were significantly different.

Regnerus found that children who reported that their mothers had a same-sex relationship were less likely to pursue an education or obtain full-time employment and more likely to be unemployed and receiving public assistance, more likely to experience sexual assault, more likely to cheat on their partners or spouses and more likely to have been arrested at some point in their past. Similarly, Regnerus discovered that children who reported that their fathers had a same-sex relationship were more likely to have been arrested, more likely to plead guilty to non-minor offenses and more likely to have numerous sexual partners.

Although Regnerus touted the NFSS as one of the few studies to use a large representative pool of participants drawn from a random population-based sample, other sociological and demographic experts, including Rosenfeld and Gates, heavily criticized the study on several grounds. First, it failed to measure the adult outcomes of children who were actually raised in same-sex households. This is because the participants’ household histories revealed that many parental same-sex romantic relationships lasted for only brief periods of time. And many of the participants never lived in a same-sex household at all. Regnerus reported that “just over half (90) of the 175 respondents whose mother had a lesbian relationship reported that they did not live with both their mother and her same-sex partner at the same time.” Id. at 11. Second, many critics voiced their concern that the NFSS made an unfair comparison between children raised by parents who happened to engage in some form of same-sex relationship and those raised by intact biological families. This is because almost all of the children in the former group were the offspring of a failed prior heterosexual union, which produced a significant measure of household instability and parental relationship fluctuation.

Even Regnerus recognized the limitations of the NFSS. In his expert report, Regnerus acknowledged that “any suboptimal outcomes may not be due to the sexual orientation of the parent” and that “[t]he exact source of group differences” are unknown. Defs.’ Ex. 28 at 5. Moreover, of the only two participants who reported living with their mother and her same-sex partner for their entire childhood, Regnerus found each of them to be “comparatively well-adjusted on most developmental and contemporary outcomes.” Id. at 11. Nonetheless, Regnerus testified that there is no conclusive evidence that “growing up in households wherein parents are in (or have been in) same-sex relationships” does not adversely affect child outcomes. Id. at 16.

The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration. The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that his 2012 “study” was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder, which found it “essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society” and which “was confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study.” See Pls.’ Motion in limine to Exclude Testimony of Mark Regnerus, Ex. 9. In the funder’s view, “the future of the institution of marriage at this moment is very uncertain” and “proper research” was needed to counter the many studies showing no differences in child outcomes. Id. The funder also stated that “this is a project where time is of the essence.” Id. Time was of the essence at the time of the funder’s comments in April 2011, and when Dr. Regnerus published the NFSS in 2012, because decisions such as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 704 F. Supp. 2d 921 (N.D. Cal. 2010), and Windsor v. United States, 833 F. Supp. 2d 394 (S.D.N.Y. 2012), were threatening the funder’s concept of “the institution of marriage.”

While Regnerus maintained that the funding source did not affect his impartiality as a researcher, the Court finds this testimony unbelievable. The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged. Additionally, the NFSS is flawed on its face, as it purported to study “a large, random sample of American young adults (ages 18-39) who were raised in different types of family arrangements” (emphasis added), but in fact it did not study this at all, as Regnerus equated being raised by a same-sex couple with having ever lived with a parent who had a “romantic relationship with someone of the same sex” for any length of time. Whatever Regnerus may have found in this “study,” he certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort to compare the outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples with those of children raised by heterosexual couples. It is no wonder that the NFSS has been widely and severely criticized by other scholars, and that Regnerus’s own sociology department at the University of Texas has distanced itself from the NFSS in particular and Dr. Regnerus’s views in general and reaffirmed the aforementioned APA position statement.

Translation: liar, liar, pants on fire.



Lindoro Almaviva
March 25th, 2014 | LINK

Alternate translation: Not even his own mother would believe what comes out of his mouth, why should we?

Paul Douglas
March 26th, 2014 | LINK

Does this Regnerus guy have no shame? He’s such a devoted papist and pulls this bullshít. I am constantly amazed at the ability of christianists that supposedly follow Jesus, to lie and dissemble without an apparent violation of their consciences. He is only one of a multitude.
And they have the gall to call US reprobates!

March 26th, 2014 | LINK

In some ways the judge’s takedown was even more severe, because elsewhere in the ruling he makes the point that the state does not limit marriage licenses only to those couples who have been shown to have children with the best outcomes. So even if Regnerus had produced valid research demonstrating some detriment to children raised by same-sex couples, it wouldn’t matter in the decision.

This is a really important point that should be used more against people like Tony Perkins who try to use statistics to denigrate and degrade LGBT people. We don’t base civil rights on what group you happen to belong to, and no statistic can say how my life or my choices will succeed or fail.

March 26th, 2014 | LINK

Does anyone have a link to the trial transcripts?

Jeff Thompson
March 26th, 2014 | LINK

The trial transcripts are located at . They don’t include the closing arguments. I haven’t yet checked to see if they include the opening arguments. Have fun reading!

March 26th, 2014 | LINK

@CPT. We also don’t base the right to marry on presumed futures. That is, the presumption that only opposite-gender couples who will raise children with “good outcomes” are allowed to marry.

By that logic, opposite-gender couples cannot be allowed to marry until after they have had children, the children have become adults, the adult children can be evaluated for “good outcomes,” and only if there are “good outcomes” will the couple be allowed to marry.

Let’s see the Christianists get on board with that plan!

March 26th, 2014 | LINK

Thanks for the link, Jeff!

And…I know I’m a one-man crew on this point, but: I think it was a mistake for Judge Friedman to call Regnerus’ study a “study,” with scare quotes. The ethics behind Regnerus’ work were questionable (read: bad), and his presentation of his results were equally indefensible. But what he did was still a study, no? Does anyone doubt the veracity of his actual numbers? His approach was terrible and his intent pernicious, but even a crappy, immoral study is still a study.

By labeling Regnerus’ work as a fake study, Judge Friedman comes off as biased, which I think could hurt in Appeals Court.

Please, someone correct me if I’m wrong–I don’t ever want to say anything positive about Mark Regnerus if I can avoid it.

Regan DuCasse
March 26th, 2014 | LINK

Hi Spunky!
I’ve been following this and read what Regnerus was supposed to have concluded.
CPT Doom, and Jpeck make the most important points that the right to marry isn’t based on the outcomes of child raising at all.
There is no parental, morals or competence tests required to marry OR parent, prior to applying for a marriage license for anyone.
So an exception for gay couples would be wrong on it’s face.
What Regnerus did, was not COMPARE these outcomes with heterosexual parents under similar circumstances.
And he had plenty of sample cases he could have worked from.
That is to say, hetero parents who divorce, also have the same problems with their children and subsequent relationships.

It’s not the sexual orientation of the parents that makes these outcomes, it’s divorce and the instability of being divorced that might be damaging to children.
Regnerus, as do practically ALL the studies the anti gay fund, make negative outcomes to do with gay people as if it’s EXCLUSIVE to gay people because they are gay.
Rather than honestly reporting that it’s a bigoted society, divorce and the attendant negative impact of these that are the factor and not sexual orientation.
They also refuse to acknowledge that the socially positive results that marriage has for gay couples whether parents or not, is good for them AND society.
They just as soon pretend no such result exists.
Or tend to distort and deny the proven results of other research that contradicts their claims.

Scott Rose
March 26th, 2014 | LINK

Firstly, in response to “Spunky’s” concerns; all of the circumstances surrounding the NFSS are suspect. Consider that, if we are to believe his claims for his raw data, then out of every 2,988 Americans between the ages of 18 and 39, 650 have never once in their lives masturbated.

Do you understand that? Regnerus alleges that his data are, as he calls them, “population based” and can be generalized to the entire U.S. population.

Ergo, anybody who believes *that,* would also believe that, as per Regnerus’s data, out of every 2,988 Americans ages 18 to 39, 650 (six-hundred and fifty) had never once in their lives masturbated.

Beyond that, remember that Regnerus is not the worst of the malefactors in this scandal. The worst of the malefactors is “Social Science Research” editor James Wright, who knowingly and deliberately subverted peer review ethics to publish his two Regnerus packages in June/July and November of 2012.

Wright and his University of Central Florida, as well as the publisher, Elsevier, are fighting bitterly against release of Regnerus-related communications that John Becker has requested under the Sunshine Laws. The case is on for trial in Florida on April 9.

March 26th, 2014 | LINK

@Scott Rose
I can believe that 650 out of 2,998 wouldn’t ADMIT to having masturbated…whether it’s actually population-based is another matter.

March 26th, 2014 | LINK

@Scott Rose: Hey, it’s the real Spunky.

You make a great point about the NFSS masturbation statistics. Regnerus’ study claims 620 out of 2,988 respondents claimed they had never masturbated, with another 110 refusing to answer (p. 125). This is substantially different from Kinsey’s national study that suggested 95% of males and 89% of females had masturbated at some point in their lives. A study at U. Chicago found that only 61% of males and 38% of females had masturbated in the past year. This doesn’t tell us anything about their entire lives, but perhaps the true number is between Kinsey’s and Regnerus’ figures. Anyway, if we take Kinsey’s numbers seriously (which we should), it would seem that Regnerus’ sample was biased.

Even with these biased results, I’ve still seen Rob Tisinai point out interesting results from the NFSS, such as: 6.6% of respondents identified as gay, mostly gay, or bi (higher than I expected), and only 80.1% of the respondents identified as “completely straight” (lower than I expected). I think this is interesting, although now that you’ve alerted me to the sample’s probable bias, I wonder how accurate these numbers really are.

Anyway, it looks like you’re right that Regnerus’ study was biased, politically motivated, and improperly cited. But it’s still a study, and I think it’s tacky to use scare quotes. That’s what the opposition does, and it makes them look silly. Let’s not be like them.

March 26th, 2014 | LINK

The thing that pisses me off the most is that Regnerus still has his position at the University of Texas. The man is only fit to muck stalls in a horse barn.

March 26th, 2014 | LINK

My eyes normally glaze over reading legal analysis. This had my rapt attention and was just delicious! Let’s just hope that Regenerus joins Cameron in the laughingstock bin.

Timothy Kincaid
March 26th, 2014 | LINK

jerry –

For stall mucker, one of the requirements is to be able to recognize what is horsepoop and what is not. Based on his work and testimony to date, I’m not sure that Regnerus has those qualifications.

Jeff Thompson
March 27th, 2014 | LINK

Spunky, I really don’t share those same concerns. In his ruling, Judge Friedman was pretty clear on how much credibility and weight he gave to Regnerus’s testimony — none. Calling it a “study” was just a minor aspect of Friedman’s assessment of Regnerus’ work. His comments on it come during his finding of fact section in which he finds the plaintiff’s witnesses to be very credible, providing useful, credible evidence and finds the state’s witnesses to be unbelievable, providing no significant evidence.

You’d be very hard pressed to find evidence of Judge Friedman’s bias in this case. If calling Regnerus’s work a “study” is the best evidence of bias, opponents would be better off not going that route. Don’t accuse a judge of bias to other judges without good proof.

Scott Rose
March 27th, 2014 | LINK

No, an anti-gay weapon, that was deliberately booby-trapped to yield a result injurious to gay people, and that was only published due to corrupt peer review, is not a real study in any sense.

Alan A Katz
March 31st, 2014 | LINK

Hilary Clinton was right – there is a vast right-wing conspiracy, and we saw it trotted out in Federal Court without even the mitigation of excuses. Heritage and NOM funding a bogus study through Princeton, Witherspoon and Bradley (to cover their presence).

This study has harmed not just LGBT families, but also the very cause of science. Now we know what agenda-driven hate-money can buy, can we ever believe any social science research? Well, we could have, before Regnerus. Now? who knows.

What is surprising is that Regnerus, despite being labelled a liar, fraud and perhaps even perjurer, continues as a tenured professor at UT-Austin. Of course, that once-great university has, of late, been tainted by Regnerus and another study on fracking paid for by petroleum interests, and executed by a professor who owned $500,000 in stock in companies that frack without – disclosing those facts. UT-Austin now has a reputation as the best university that monied interests can buy – cheap. Too bad.

Rene van Soeren
April 1st, 2014 | LINK

Regnerus is still defending his study – thinks the Judge was bias.

“My study noted numerous suboptimal outcomes experienced by adult children who reported a parental same-sex relationship,” says Regnerus. “Like other studies, it has its limitations. But there is much it can tell us, including about the household instability experienced by such children, and the uncommon frequency of stably-coupled lesbian households with children in the era I was examining.”

“In the end, the judge seemed to focus on what my study could not say rather than what it could. It is frustrating to see him overlook the significant limitations of other studies.”

See lifesitenews:

April 21st, 2014 | LINK

Presumably the “significant limitations of other studies” include that they actually studied what they claimed to be studying? Regnerus’ study may have been done well (I don’t know), but his write-up was flat dishonest.

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