Regnerus Shoots His Own Foot
July 21st, 2014
Mark Regnerus has gotten a lot of flack lately for publicly criticizing a positive Australian report on same-sex parenting, a classic example of the pot calling the kettle incompetent. Hidden in his critique, though, is a little nugget that deserves more attention.
Midway through, Regnerus flogs his notions about the instability of same-sex couples, but then tries to substantiate them by linking to research that proves him wrong — and in doing so, brings to light a study that we should all have bookmarked.
A bit of background. We lambasted Regnerus, of course, for presenting his famous study as research into same-sex parenting even though he did not specify outcomes for kids raised by same-sex parents, mostly because he hardly studied any kids raised by same-sex parents. His defense was that grown-up kids like that are hard to find because families like that seem to be unstable, and then he turned this alleged instability into further criticism of same-sex parenting.
He pushes this theme again in his recent critique:
Children fare better in an environment of household stability. In the NFSS, stability was largely absent when an adult child reported a parental same-sex relationship. Hence, their life experiences were (on average) notably more challenging than those of their peers with married mothers and fathers. Some critics felt this was an “unfair” comparison. But if social reality is unfair, there’s not much that any sociologist can do about that.
But will same-sex parents’ relationships be more or less stable in the future? On the one hand, we know that same-sex relationships in general—across multiple datasets—remain more fragile than opposite-sex ones (and to be fair, no group is performing all that well).
That link is in his original, and with that link we strike gold.
It leads to an abstract of a research paper by Stanford professor Michael Rosenfeld called, “Couple Longevity and Formal Unions in the Era of Same-sex Marriage in the United States.” I was surprised by the last sentence of that abstract:
I hypothesize that the higher relationship instability that was reported for same-sex couples in the past was due in part to the lack of options for union formalization available to same-sex couples in the past.
If true, that would actually undercut Regnerus’ argument. Since he linked to this paper, though, I expected to find the hypothesis debunked. But I found the full text and, my, was I surprised. Check this out. It’s worth reading carefully.
In this paper I show that while same-sex couples in the US are more likely to break up than heterosexual couples (Hypothesis 1), the difference in couple longevity is explained by the lower rate of marriage among same-sex couples. Once marriage (and marriage-like unions) are controlled for, same-sex couples and heterosexual couples have statistically indistinguishable rates of break-up, confirming Hypothesis 2 ["that same-sex couples and heterosexual couples would have similar rates of break-up once marriage was controlled for"]. Despite the fact that none of the same-sex couples in the US in the 2009-2012 period enjoyed the same legal benefits and federal recognition as heterosexual married couples (because of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996), the association between marriage and couple stability was similar for same-sex couples and for heterosexual couples, confirming Hypothesis 3 ["Marriage has a similar positive association with couple longevity for same-sex couples and for heterosexual couples"].
That’s great stuff. It not only demolishes an anti-gay talking point, but also wipes out the many arguments built on that talking point. For years, anti-gays have been spouting irrelevant nonsense like “Homosexual relationships generally last only a fraction of the time that most marriages last.” Irrelevant nonsense, because even for heterosexuals, relationships are shorter on average than marriages. In fact, from an arithmetic geek’s perspective, if you have just one pre-marital relationship that’s shorter than your marriage, then your average relationship will last only a fraction of the time of your marriage.
But this Regnerus-recommended paper goes further than that. It doesn’t just knock down nonsense arguments. No, it establishes an affirmative case for the stability of same-sex marriages, and thus for same-sex parenting.
I still have to wonder, though: why did Regnerus link to a study that establishes the opposite of what he’s trying to claim? It’s easy to assume he’s just lying, hoping no one investigates his link, but I always keep a few wonderful quotes in mind:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity
And this wonderful variation on Clarke’s Third Law:
Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
I mean, come on — even the abstract the appears when you click Regnerus’ link is enough to raise suspicion that he’s missed the target. My best guess is that he seized on the first sentence in the quote I provided, and found himself so tangled in confirmation bias that he completely missed what followed, even though what followed is the crucial piece of information when it comes to evaluating same-sex families (i.e., marriage and marriage-like unions).
At this point it looks like Regnerus has so thoroughly ruined his scientific credibility that he’s gone into denial over it, and now lives in a self-imposed Dunning-Kruger inability to recognize his own incompetence. Not because he’s inherently stupid, but because a rigorous intelligence would threaten his last bastion of support.
However, even this man’s small tragedy has produced some good. Bookmark that Stanford study, and be ready to offer it up as Regnerus-approved proof that Regnerus is wrong.