In marshalling support for its stance that marriage should only be celebrated between a man and a woman, Preserve Marriage (PM) has cited “research” showing that children raised by a married couple consisting of a man and a woman enjoy better outcomes than those raised in any other family environment. But, as we discuss below, the research PM relies upon is deeply flawed, full of methodological errors and distorted by its author’s biases. Indeed, the Regnerus study that they cite has been thoroughly discredited.
The FAQ section of PM’s website, includes a question asking what “does the research say” regarding on marriage equality and how it affects children. Their answer is this:
“The latest and most comprehensive research continues to confirm what social science has shown for decades: children do better when raised by a married mother and father. For example, the New Family Structures Study by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas–Austin and a report in the highly respected journal Demography provide evidence for this conclusion.”
The New Family Structures Study is the lynchpin of PM’s argument and is used by them to claim a false premise that children raised by a male and a female who are married “do better” than children raised in other environments. However, the Washington Post reported in 2015 that Professors Simon Cheng (University of Connecticut) and Brian Powell (Indiana University) said of the research on which PM relies (in the same “highly respected journal”) “Regnerus misclassified a significant number of children as being raised in same-sex households. Based on a re-evaluation of the data, it concludes there are minimal differences in outcome for children raised by same-sex parents and married opposite-sex parents.”
There are some things that you need to know about Regnerus’s research:
- It was commissioned by the Witherspoon Institute and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, who funded the research with $800,000. Both of these groups have intimate ties with anti-LGBT hate groups.
- The study started from a biased premise: it was done to specifically create evidence against marriage equality, and not purely for research. Public records show that the then president of Witherspoon told Regnerus to produce the reports quickly and before the Supreme Court could rule on marriage equality.
- Bradford Wilcox, the director at Witherspoon conducting the study, also became a paid consultant for the study and further evidence shows that he also peer-reviewed the study (ie. a researcher reviewed and critiqued his own work); a clear conflict of interest.
- Paul Amato, another paid consultant on the study, also peer-reviewed the study; another conflict of interest.
- The American Sociological Association has denounced Regnerus’s study for its flaws and its misuse.
- University of Texas–Austin, Regnerus’s own university where he is employed, denounced his study.
What were the flaws in the study that has caused so much conflict? First we must understand the reason that Regnerus produced the study. At that time, most studies were convenience studies, or studies where there was a smaller sample size, or with people who were easy to find. The reason for this is because of the history of anti-gay sentiment and violence, making it difficult to find participants. However, it should be noted that with decades of these studies, it creates a “body of evidence” that all draw the same conclusion. Marriage equality does not harm children, and children of same-gender parents are just as well adjusted as their counterparts. Regnerus’s study was on a much larger sample group. He randomly surveyed 15,000 people. Out of that 15,000 were 3,000 people between the ages of 18 – 39. He then asked these young people about marital status, employment status, income level, criminal history, sexual orientation, suicidal tendencies, experience with sexual abuse, experience with drug and alcohol abuse, overall happiness and about their social, emotional, behavioral, and economic outcomes. Out of those people, he asked if one of their parents had been in a same-gender relationship. If yes, fathers were classified as “gay fathers” and mothers as “lesbian mothers”. Here were the flaws from that point forward:
- The characteristic for his “biological intact family” was a male and a female, who were married for each respondent’s entire childhood (at least 18 years or until the child left on their own). Also, the child lived continuously within this family unit until adulthood. This accounted for 919 respondents.
- Gay fathers did not strictly mean two males in a relationship, just one that had a same-sex relationship at some point during the respondent’s childhood. In other words, it could have been a long-term relationship, less than a year [or a one-night stand?].
- Lesbian mother did not strictly mean two females in a relationship, just one that had a same-sex relationship at some point during the respondent’s childhood. Also, could have been a long-term relationship or less than a year [see above].
- Out of 264 same-gender “families”, only 2 out of his entire study had been together continuously for 18+ years, and these were lesbian families, as no male/male families were included in his comparison.
In other words Regnerus compared the outcomes of children of opposite-gender parents, who had been together continuously for 18+ years with the outcomes of children whose parents had been through divorce or breakup, widowed and where, for the vast majority, there was not a two parent household. Also in many cases the offspring reported never living with or seldomly living with their “gay father”. Regnerus was comparing apples to oranges. In order for this to be valid, he would have to compare two opposite-gender parent families, where the child lived within that configuration for their entire childhood to two same-gender parent families, where the child lived within that configuration for their entire childhood. But we know that this was not the case and that out of the 3,000 respondents, only 2 met that latter criteria. Only 2 respondents were actually comparable to the 919 families he classified as “intact biological families”. Even Regnerus admitted under questioning from the state that only two of the subjects in his study were raised from birth by committed same-sex couples and both had positive outcomes.
Even the most recent data tells us that same-gender (female parents in this research) and opposite-gender families are no different. In a research paper, published in The Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics as recently as April 2016, even more evidence confirms this. To download a copy of this research paper (Same-Sex and Different-Sex Parent Households and Child Health Outcomes: Findings from the National Survey of Children’s Health), see useful links at the end of this article. The research states:
Despite higher levels of parenting stress for same-sex parents, their offspring did not differ in general health, emotional difficulties, coping behavior, or learning behavior when compared with the offspring of different sex parents.
Regnerus’s study faced much criticism because of the way the research was conducted. First it was commissioned and funded by organizations that have very close links to known anti-LGBT hate groups. Then it was peer-reviewed by paid consultants who also helped to create the research, creating a conflict of interest. It has been denounced by several groups, including by the university where the Regnerus is employed. Lastly, the comparisons it made were flawed, comparing different types of family configurations that are not comparable. Still, this research has been used by lawmakers to enact discriminatory laws, it has been used in Russia to justify the seizure of children and the denial of adoption and it is constantly used by anti-LGBT hate groups. To sum it all up, the last sentence of Cheng and Powell’s research paper states [Regnerus] “does not provide sufficiently credible counterevidence to the longstanding body of scholarship that confirms minimal differences in the consequences of living with same-sex or opposite-sex parents.”
Once again, as we have stated, Bermuda must continue to carefully and honestly consider the arguments on both sides of the debate and we hope that these pieces provide a counterpoint to the arguments put forward by PM, especially where such arguments are characterised by reliance on suspect sources.
Some useful links
- The Regnerus Fallout – http://www.regnerusfallout.org/
- A “reality check” for the Regnerus study on gay parenting –http://tinyurl.com/htv5vtf
- UT Austin Denounces Mark Regnerus’ Anti-Gay Study –http://tinyurl.com/j5fm4ee
- Measurement, methods, and divergent patterns: Reassessing the effects of same-sex parents – http://tinyurl.com/zyku4rp
- Same-Sex and Different-Sex Parent Households and Child Health Outcomes: Findings from the National Survey of Children’s Health –http://tinyurl.com/ho9nptu
- [Press Release] New Study Shows No Differences in Family Relationships or Child Health Outcomes between Same-sex and Different-sex Parent Households –http://tinyurl.com/zv8r6q9
- Mark Regnerus’ Own Sociology Department Calls His Anti-Gay Conclusions ‘Fundamentally Flawed’ –http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/03/04/3357631/regnerus-department-flawed/