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Posts for March, 2013

American Sociological Association Takes On Regnerus Study in Prop 8 Brief

Jim Burroway

March 1st, 2013

Another Amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court urging the court to strike down California’s Prop 8 comes from the American Sociological Association, which tackles the social science arguments made by Prop 8 supporters. After noting that many of Prop 8 proponents’ briefs includes citations of the the study by Mark Regnerus — which, by mixing apples with elephants, came to the unsupported conclusion that children raise by “gay” and “lesbian” parents — his terms — fared poorly when compared to those raised by intact, never-divorced, never-adopted heterosexual families — the ASA set about to destroy that argument. Here is that section in full (PDF: 214KB/42 pages):


The Regnerus study—the principal study relied on by the amici of BLAG and the Proposition 8 Proponents—did not specifically examine children raised by same-sex parents, and provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes.

The Regnerus Study Offers No Basis for Conclusions About Same-Sex Parents

First, the Regnerus study does not specifically examine children born or adopted into same-sex parent families, but instead examines children who, from the time they were born until they were 18 or moved out, had a parent who at any time had “a same-sex romantic relationship.” Regnerus 2012a at 75. As Regnerus noted, the majority of the individuals characterized by him as children of “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” were the offspring of failed opposite- sex unions whose parent subsequently had a same-sex relationship. Id. In other words, Regnerus did not study or analyze the children of two same-sex parents.

Second, when the Regnerus study compared the children of parents who at one point had a “same-sex romantic relationship,” most of whom had experienced a family dissolution or single motherhood, to children raised by two biological, married opposite-sex parents, the study stripped away all divorced, single, and stepparent families from the opposite-sex group, leaving only stable, married, opposite-sex families as the comparison. . Id. at 757 (the comparison group consisted of individuals who “[l]ived in intact biological famil[ies] (with mother and father) from 0 to 18, and parents are still married at present”). Thus, it was hardly surprising that the opposite-sex group had better outcomes given that stability is a key predictor of positive child wellbeing. By so doing, the Regnerus study makes inappropriate apples-to-oranges comparisons.
Third, Regnerus’s first published analysis of his research data failed to consider whether the children lived with, or were raised by, the parent who was, at some point, apparently involved in “a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex” and that same-sex partner. Id. at 756. Instead, Regnerus categorized children as raised by a parent in a same-sex romantic relationship regardless of whether they were in fact raised by the parent and the parent’s same-sex romantic partner and regardless of the amount of time that they spent under the parent’s care. As a result, so long as an adult child believed that he or she had had a parent who had a relationship with someone of the same sex, then he or she was counted by Regnerus as having been “raised by” a parent in a same-sex relationship.

Fourth, in contrast to every other study on same-sex parenting, Regnerus identified parents who had purportedly engaged in a same-sex romantic relationship based solely on the child’s own retrospective report of the parent’s romantic relationships, made once the child was an adult. This unusual measurement strategy ignored the fact that the child may have limited and inaccurate recollections of the parents’ distant romantic past. Id.

Finally, the study fails to account for the fact that the negative outcomes may have been caused by other childhood events or events later in the individual’s adult life, particularly given that the vast majority (thirty-seven of forty) of the outcomes measured were adult and not childhood outcomes. Factors other than same-sex parenting are likely to explain these negative outcomes in the Regnerus study. Regnerus himself concludes that “I am thus not suggesting that growing up with a lesbian mother or gay father causes suboptimal outcomes because of the sexual orientation or sexual behavior of the parent.” Id. at 766.

In sum, by conflating (1) children raised by same-sex parents with (2) individuals who reportedly had a parent who had “a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex,” and referring to such individuals as children of “lesbian mothers” or “gay fathers,” the Regnerus study obscures the fact that it did not specifically examine children raised by two same-sex parents. Accordingly, it cannot speak to the impact of same-sex parenting on child outcomes.  Accordingly, it cannot speak to the impact of same-sex parenting on child outcomes. As discussed above, amici in support of BLAG and the Proposition 8 Proponents have themselves rejected such “inappropriate comparisons” between stable and unstable family structures, see Brief for American College of Pediatricians at 4-5, as did the district court in Perry, see 704 F.Supp. 2d at 981 (studies that make apples-to-oranges comparisons are of no moment).

The “Re-Stated” Regnerus Study Offers No Basis for Conclusions About Same-Sex Parents

Regnerus acknowledged the merit of a series of scholarly critiques regarding underlying aspects of his research and subsequently published a second analysis of the data. Among others, a group of over one hundred social scientists signed an article faulting the Regnerus study for failing to take account of family structure and family instability. Gary J. Gates et al., Letter to the Editor and Advisory Editors of Social Science Research, 41 Social Science Research 1350 (2012). The article specifically criticized the Regnerus study’s failure to “distinguish between the impact of having a parent who has a continuous same-sex relationship from the impact of having same-sex parents who broke-up from the impact of living in a same sex step-family from the impact of living with a single parent who may have dated a same-sex partner.” Id. Regnerus tried to remedy the fact that his initial published research did not analyze whether the children had actually lived with the parent who, according to the adult child, had at some point, been “romantically involved” with someone of the same sex. See Mark Regnerus, Parental Same-Sex Relationships, Family Instability, and Subsequent Life Outcomes for Adult Children: Answering Critics of the New Family Structures Study with Additional Analyses, 41 Social Science Research 1367, 1369 (2012) (“Regnerus 2012b”).

Nevertheless, Regnerus’s follow-up analysis does not resolve the problems inherent in his initial analysis and contains many of the same shortcomings. The follow-up analysis maintained the flawed and extremely broad definition of what constitutes “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers”—a mother or father who ever had a romantic relationship with someone of the same-sex during the period from the birth of the child until the child turned eighteen (or left home to be on their own). Id. at 1368. Accordingly, Regnerus’s analysis continues to ignore stability as a factor in child outcomes—a factor that explains many of the differences among its subjects. And Regnerus still fails to account for the duration of time spent with a mother who was “romantically involved” with a same-sex partner and that partner. See id. at 1372. Only two of the eighty-five children who at some point lived with a mother who was “romantically involved” with another woman reported that they did so for the entire duration of their childhood. Finally, Regnerus’s follow-up analysis is still not reflective of same-sex parenting because Regnerus could not remedy the fact that he recorded experiences that occurred either during the time the child lived with his or her mothers’ same-sex partner or during another childhood time period.

If any conclusion can be reached from Regnerus’s study, it is that family stability is predictive of child wellbeing. As Regnerus himself notes, family structure (for instance whether the family has a single parent or two parents), matters significantly to child outcomes. Regnerus 2012a at 761. As the social science consensus described in Part I demonstrates, the evidence regarding children raised by same-sex parents overwhelmingly indicates that children raised by such families fare just as well as children raised by opposite-sex parents, and that children raised by same-sex parents are likely to benefit from the enhanced stability the institution of marriage would provide to their parents and families. All told, the Regnerus study, even as revised, does not undermine the consensus that children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well as those raised by opposite-sex parents.

BTB was the first to debunk Regnerus’s study. Our review came out just before news of the study broke in theDeseret News. Rob Tisinai’s reaction can be foundherehere and here; Timothy Kincaid’s reaction is here and here. Regnerus’s response to a BTB reader can be found here. Flaws found in an independent audit of the study can be found here. You can follow everything we’ve posted about the study by following this tag.