Mark Regnerus’s report today that lesbian couples’ children turn out worse than straight couples ignited a firestorm, drawing cheers on the social right and denunciations from the gay rights movement.
The study was the latest in a series that have made Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at UT Austin and married father of three, a darling of the right: His other findings tout the benefits of early marriage and the costs of “hookup culture.”
But if he’s become a star of the social right, he said in an interview, that’s (almost) completely an accident.
“I’m not terribly politically-oriented myself,” Regnerus told BuzzFeed Monday. “People probably won’t believe it, but I’ve yet to vote for a Republican presidential candidate.”
He adds that “I have never gone on record supporting a particular policy of any sort” and that if his work gets a lot of attention, it’s likely “because I gravitate toward interesting research questions that tend to have wide public interest, and because I’m not afraid to poke my nose into controversial topics.”
Regnerus’s most recent study, published this month in the journal Social Science Research, found that the children of parents who had ever had a same-sex relationship differed in important ways from kids of married, straight parents. Those whose moms ever had a relationship with another woman, especially, were significantly more likely to be unemployed as adults than children of still-married straight parents; they were also more likely to seek treatment for mental illness, and to report having sex with someone else while married or cohabiting. This is potentially incendiary stuff — or, for Regnerus, business as usual.
Last year, Regnerus caused a stir by arguing that casual sex had driven the “price” of sexual intercourse down, keeping young women from getting the commitment they wanted. And in 2009, he urged women to consider getting married in their early twenties because “marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you’re fully formed.” His research has been championed by a variety of conservative groups. But he said his research — including the same-sex parenting study — isn’t political.
The same-sex parenting study, he said, is no different. On Slate, he wrote that the political takeaway of the research was unclear, and that it might actually be an argument for increasing the stability of same-sex families by giving them the opportunity to marry. He closed, however, on this note: “It may suggest that the household instability that the [study] 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.”
Foes of gay marriage have thrilled to Regnerus’s latest research. National Organization for Marriage founder Maggie Gallagher said it showed that “compared to every other family form we know that has been studied, the ‘gold standard’ for children remains the intact, married biological family, a mom and a dad.” Patrick Fagan of the conservative Christian Family Research Council called it “debate-altering.”
Asked whether he agreed with that assessment, Regnerus said, “I don’t press political answers on anybody.”
Liberal critics, meanwhile, immediately questioned his scholarship.
Gary J. Gates, author of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas and Williams Distinguished Scholar at UCLA Law School, criticized Regnerus’s comparison between children of intact heterosexual families and children whose parents had at some point had a same-sex relationship — the latter group, he noted, had experienced divorce, step-parent arrangements, and foster care, all of which are known to affect children’s lives no matter what the sexual orientation of their parents.
“The methodology,” he said, “is designed to find bad outcomes” for children with same-sex parents.
Regnerus argues that he simply couldn’t find enough intact same-sex-parented families to do a comparison, but Gates counters that “if you have limited sample size then you can’t do the analysis.”
Gates called the findings obvious: “All he’s shown us is that family instability isn’t good for kids.”
Regnerus argues that his methodology wasn’t designed to find anything.
“Sampling theory doesn’t care what you think about life, relationships, or personal politics,” he said.
However, he acknowledges there’s a “subtext” to his work: the belief that “the project of profound, radical expressive individualism […] is a poor one for human flourishing.”
We are all constrained by social phenomena, he said, and that’s not a bad thing — “constraints can produce much good in our lives, whether we like the constraints or not. Liberty run amok can create extraordinary personal disaster.”
Regnerus also said the peer-review process in social science also helps root out personal biases. Gates, though, accused the journal of fast-tracking that process in the case of the same-sex parenting study — the paper was reviewed in a period of forty days, which he said is about a third of the next quickest review time for Social Science Research. Regnerus’s study, he said, was “absolutely” subjected to less scrutiny than usual. Journal editor James Wright, however, told BuzzFeed that nobody cut Regnerus slack: “When reviewers are timely, the process moves much more quickly. In this case, I suspect that reviewers were intrinsically interested in the subject and treatment and were thus more timely in their reviews.”
On the topic of how his work will be received, Regnerus said he doesn’t much care:
“I’m not the sort of person that obsesses about peer perceptions of me. How adolescent that would be.”
Academia, he said, is “like high school, with jockeying, status obsessions, who’s invited where, etc.”
“It’s silly, and I don’t play that game,” he said.
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One: you can’t TELL me that there aren’t masculine lesbians out there!
Two: What about uncles, grandfathers? They can be a good father figure!
three: As a lesbian, BITE ME!
All a child needs is two loving parents to help it grow to be a loving adult. I know many straight parents who don’t give a rats ass about their kids, making those children sociopaths who act totally like little fucks! What does a child need when they are growing up? Easy, love, support, nurturing, discipline. Somebody to show them how to socially act with others, to not judge or else you will be an asshat. I mean it’s pretty simple folks.
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Despite not being a sociologist, I am an academic, and I can honestly say that research like this wouldn’t pass against a dissertation defence. Why? Well, let’s see: 1) Couldn’t find enough intact same-sex families to conduct adequate research. Yet he did it anyway. Perhaps he should have postponed the research until he could (though, if it were funded through a grant, I understand the concern over timing). 2) Ignoring possibilities for causation. Correlation does not equal causation. Did he ask why so many went to therapy? Was there a trend in their answers? [Let’s not get into how he stigmatises utilising therapy. I know a shit-ton of people who went to therapy, including myself.] 3) Not accounting for gender discrepancies. In an environment where unemployment is rampant and women of any orientation are choosing to stay home to take care of children (if they have the ability to do so) or are trying to work are discriminated against, what happens when you have two women in the household? Pardon the phrase, but it’s ‘double trouble’. They’re going to have twice the difficulty in finding a job. [NB: Why doesn’t he consider male homosexual couples? Would the results differ?] In my research, my supervisor always asks me two questions: ‘Why?’ and ‘So what?’ Whilst Regnerus certainly covers the latter, it’s the former that creates true—and valid—research.
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‘more likely to be unemployed as adults’ This clearly has nothing to do with discrimination or being made to feel uncomfortable/unwelcome in the workplace. ‘more likely to seek treatment for mental illness’ Because why should they have mental health issues when they’ve gotten along so well in life being constantly criticized or even attacked for their sexual orientation? ‘having sex with someone else while married or cohabiting’
This is clearly the worst thing you could ever expose your children to. Polyamorous and open relationships are sinful, even when it’s between consenting adults.
And straight couples never cheat.
Hmm… I’d say his comparison methods are lacking and rather amateur, and I suspect he knows this, despite his insistence upon being apolitical. It’s very obvious that he was in essence comparing single parent households with two-parent households, despite he clever wording indicating otherwise. Don’t let this fool you - sociologists always have an agenda. I know, I want to be one. :-)
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