Mark Regnerus, the author of a flawed parenting paper that attempts to claim that gay and lesbian parents not only aren’t as good as straight parents, but outright claims that gay and lesbian parents make bad parents, has drawn the criticism of not only progressives, but conservatives as well. But some conservatives — along with many liberals or progressives — find the Regnerus “study” actually proves the need for marriage to be extended to same-sex couples.
The Regnerus study, bankrolled by private conservative think tanks to the tune of almost $800,000, sets out to show the differences between the adult children of straight, married, heterosexual couples, and those of their peers raised by unmarried, same-sex (yes, homosexual) couples. But what it actually does is compare adult children of married heterosexual couples to adult children who think at some point in their childhood one of their parents had some sort of a same-sex relationship. (Frankly, since Regnerus offered any of his 3000 or so subjects no definitions of what a same-sex relationship is, a blow job in the back of a VW Microbus could have qualified.)
And what it really finds is that (1) children who grew up over the past 40 years in broken homes have a harder time than children who grew up in intact homes, and therefore, (2) children need stability.
To be clear, as LiveScience writer Stephanie Pappas, writing at the Huffington Post notes:
Only two of the 1.7 percent of respondents who reported a parental same-sex relationship reported living with that couple as parents for their entire childhood, meaning that the study has little to say about gay couples who deliberately chose to parent children through donor insemination, surrogacy or other means.
Fortunately, of course, lovers of science, regardless of political perspective, have attacked the Regnerus study for its flawed methodology and brazen attempt to throw anti-gay ideology into the scientific community.
Here’s a sampling of conservatives — often cited by the anti-gay radical right — who say the Mark Regnerus paper is or may be evidence for the need for same-sex marriage. One of them is the paper’s author, Mark Regnerus, himself.
ROSS DOUTHAT: NEW YORK TIMES
Because it focuses on adult outcomes, Regnerus’s study is necessarily a look backward. No matter where they lived or how they were treated by their peers, many of his subjects came of age when homosexuality was still marginalized and despised and gay marriage barely on the radar screen. The majority were born to male-female couples in which one partner later came out as gay (adding an extra layer of complexity and heartbreak), rather than being planned via adoption, sperm donation or in vitro fertilization. Almost none were raised in a single same-sex household for their entire childhood. Today the models of gay parenting have presumably shifted, the stability of gay households has presumably increased, and the outcomes for children may be shifting as well.
For the purposes of the gay marriage debate, then, any past disadvantages associated with being raised in same-sex households could easily be cited as evidence for why gay couples need full marriage rights now – the better to guarantee their children, existing or potential, the stability and continuity the institution provides.
CHARLES C. W. COOKE: NATIONAL REVIEW
Moreover, given that the study is a snapshot of a time period that predated legalization of gay marriage (in some states), one might speculate that social stigma played a role in Regnerus’s data, and that such stigma will have a smaller effect in future surveys. Indeed, one should concede that people could legitimately employ Regnerus’s study to justify gay marriage on the grounds that societal disapproval of unmarried gay parents leads to the very instability that causes their children to experience negative outcomes: Marriage between gay partners will enhance the family’s stability and therefore be good for the children. I consider this to be a step too far — the high rate of divorce among gays does not suggest that same-sex households will soon be a model of stability — but it is worth consideration.
WILLIAM SALETAN: SLATE
What the study shows, then, is that kids from broken homes headed by gay people develop the same problems as kids from broken homes headed by straight people. But that finding isn’t meaningless. It tells us something important: We need fewer broken homes among gays, just as we do among straights. We need to study Regnerus’ sample and fix the mistakes we made 20 or 40 years ago. No more sham heterosexual marriages. No more post-parenthood self-discoveries. No more deceptions. No more affairs. And no more polarization between homosexuality and marriage. Gay parents owe their kids the same stability as straight parents. That means less talk about marriage as a right, and more about marriage as an expectation.
The study’s main takeaway, according to Regnerus, is that kids of gay parents have turned out differently from kids of straight parents, and not in a good way. I’m sure that conclusion will please the study’s conservative sponsors. But the methodology and findings, coupled with previous research, point to deeper differences that transcend orientation. Kids do better when they have two committed parents, a biological connection, and a stable home. If that’s good advice for straights, it’s good advice for gays, too.
MARK REGNERUS: SLATE
This study arrives in the middle of a season that’s already exhibited plenty of high drama over same-sex marriage, whether it’s DOMA, the president’s evolving perspective, Prop 8 pinball, or finished and future state ballot initiatives. The political take-home message of the NFSS study is unclear, however. On the one hand, the instability detected in the NFSS could translate into a call for extending the relative security afforded by marriage to gay and lesbian couples. On the other hand, it may suggest that the household instability that the NFSS reveals is just too common among same-sex couples to take the social gamble of spending significant political and economic capital to esteem and support this new (but tiny) family form while Americans continue to flee the stable, two-parent biological married model, the far more common and accomplished workhorse of the American household, and still—according to the data, at least—the safest place for a kid.
MARK REGNERUS: PATHEOS
Q: Some might say this study reveals evidence that gay and lesbian parents would benefit from access to the relative security of marriage. What are your thoughts on that?
A: It’s possible. How gay marriages would function for children is an empirical question, but it’s only answerable in the future, after ample numbers of cases have accrued, after considerable time has expired, and when the respondents are old enough to speak and reflect about it, as the respondents in my study have.
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