Why We Should (and Will) Ignore Mark Regnerus’s Gay Parenting Study

Mark Regnerus gay parenting study

My wife and I are off work and hanging with her family in Texas this week, just in time for the small Internet kerfuffle that’s erupted over a study by a local researcher that “shows” that people raised by gay parents are — Praise the Lord — more likely to be unemployed, promiscuous and depressed, in addition to being all-around bad citizens (they’re less likely to vote). Me, I try not to fan the fires of bitterness too much (the world is full of jerkwads, after all, whether you go looking for them or not), but this study is getting some attention (see commentaries by Ross Douthat and the study author, who is also featured in this niftily misleading ABC News video) so I thought I’d throw a couple of cents in.

The study, by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist down here in Tejas whose work is funded by the conservative-leaning Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, was prompted by research showing that kids are in no worse shape (and may be, as one study has found, in even better shape) for being raised by gay parents. Regnerus says he wanted to test the “no difference” hypothesis, which holds that kids do fine when they’re raised by two parents in a stable relationship, regardless of who in the family has what sexual machinery.

So then, like you do, Regnerus went on to design a study that tells us exactly nothing about whether that hypothesis is correct.

He surveyed about 3,000 people between 18–39 years of age and asked them a bunch of questions about how they were raised and what kind of adults they’ve become. There’s a detailed analysis of the study’s issues by Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin, but to me, there’s just one fundamental flaw worth mentioning (and it has nothing to do with statistics, lucky for me).

The author’s categorization of respondents runs thusly:

  1. IBF, for “intact biological family,” or people whose biological parents were married, raised them together, and are still married;
  2. LM, for “lesbian mother,” meaning that she was in a relationship with a woman at some point, ever;
  3. GF, for “gay father,” which means that the respondent’s father was in a relationship with a man at some point, ever;
  4. Adopted, which means the person was adopted by one or two people (no out Mormons here) before two years of age;
  5. Divorced later or had joint custody, meaning the person lived with bio parents up to 18 but the parents are no longer together;
  6. Stepfamily, meaning the bio parents were either never married or were divorced, and the primary custodial parent was married to someone else before the respondent turned 18;
  7. Single parent, meaning the bio parents were either never married or were divorced and did not marry or remarry before the respondent turned 18, and then this odd little category:
  8. All others, which includes all other family structure/event combinations, such as respondents with a deceased parent.

The problem is that “GF” and “LM” aren’t family structures. The question used to build the categories is about dating history: “From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?” And anyone who fit more than one category (single, stepfamily, whatevs) ended up in the gay categories if they also happened to be gay. The comparison, from the beginning, is akin to something like: do kids whose parents ever dated someone who really liked Hardee’s fried chicken or the movie Snakes on a Plane fare better or worse than children raised in a stable, two-parent household in which neither parent likes Hardee’s fried chicken or Snakes on a Plane? Useless.

The second problem is really just an extension of the first: of nearly 3,000 respondents, 6% were classified as having a lesbian mom and 2% were classified as having a gay dad. Of those, only 23% said they had lived with their mother and her partner for at least three years before the age of 18. That means that 77% of them didn’t. The number was only 2% for gay-dad respondents. No distinction is made between people whose parents “have ever been in a same-sex relationship” and people who were raised by gay parents in a stable relationship with each other for all or most of their childhoods.

If I were into ad hominem attacks, I’d say that this study’s glaring design flaw is reflective of its author’s homophobic interpretation of the world: a gay person’s gayness is the root of any and all bad things that happen to his or her children, regardless of other factors. But I’m not into ad hominem attacks, or at least I’m trying hard not to be, so I’ll just say thanks anyway, Dr. Regnerus, but I’ll take my common sense over your “objective data.” Kids need stability, and parents need the support of their families and communities in order to provide stability, and as long as crap like this is spun to mean that gay people are worse parents than straight people, you’re only part of the problem.

Meanwhile, here’s a GIF to cleanse your palette:

http://i.imgur.com/X1WcV.gif

Katie Perry is a new editor here at IC. She is not a pop star, but has kissed a girl and liked it. You’ll be hearing more from her soon.

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