Mark Regnerus’ New Family Structures Study has become a staple of arguments against gay marriage. It appears to provide empirical evidence that same-sex couples make less good parents. There’s just one problem: it’s a piece of research so poorly designed that it should never have been published. I will allow the New Republic’s Nora Caplan-Bricker to pick up the story:
Regnerus interviewed 3,000 young adults, including 248 who reported that at least one parent had engaged in a same-sex relationship. That group showed consistently lower psychological and behavioral wellbeing, Regnerus said. And the largest gap, he reported, was “between the children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents.”
A large group of Regnerus’s peers were alarmed by his methodology. Some 200 of them signed a letter expressing “serious concerns about the scholarly merit of this paper.” Among the problems they cited: The study classifies as “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” any people who have had same-sex relations since becoming parents. More than half of the subjects who Regnerus holds up as victims of same-sex parenting are, in fact, the products of heterosexual marriages that fell apart—they are part of his dataset because a parent later went on to have a same-sex partner, casual or otherwise. Regnerus judges the effect of “same-sex relationships” by looking at subjects who, for the most part, were not raised by a same-sex couple.
Many experts concluded that Regnerus had merely documented the well-established effects of broken families on kids—and nothing unique to same-sex parenting. That was the essential conclusion of the American Sociological Association, which has rejected the study’s findings and said publicly: “If any conclusion can be reached from Regnerus’s study, it is that family stability is predictive of child well-being.”
Critics have also taken notice of the study’s backstory, which would seem to suggest a clear political agenda—by the groups who funded it, and perhaps the scholar himself. As Eckholm explains, Regnerus was recruited and his work partially funded by the Witherspoon Institute, a religious-conservative research center. He also recieved $90,000 from the Bradley Foundation, which backs conservative causes.