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Critics challenge findings, funding and methodology of controversial gay-parents study

Mark Regnerus’ research was funded by a right-wing group

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Mark Regnerus’ research was funded by a right-wing group with ties to the main group promoting the constitutional amendment here and similar efforts elsewhere, the National Organization for Marriage.

Six weeks ago, a University of Texas sociology professor released the results of a study that found that children raised by gay or lesbian parents fared poorly when compared with kids raised by intact families headed by their married, biological, opposite-sex parents.

After surveying 3,000 18- to 39-year-olds, Mark Regnerus found that those raised in LGBT-headed households “are more likely than kids in other family structures to be on public assistance, unemployed or in therapy as adults, among other negative outcomes.”

"The scholarly and popular consensus that there are no notable differences between the children who grew up with a mother or father in a same-sex relationship and those whose (heterosexual) mother and father were and are still married is a fiction," Regnerus told LiveScience.

For a few days, the mainstream media treated the “New Family Structures Study” much as it would any other serious academic finding, with sober, measured stories laying out the main points.

Today, however, Regnerus’ relationship to his politically motivated funders and his research methodologies are the subject of complaints being looked at by UT officials.

Among the assertions:

• Groups with ties to the campaigns to outlaw same-sex marriage around the country needed credible evidence to prove that being raised by gays and lesbians is harmful to children.

• Concerned that mainstream funders would not find his work “politically correct,” Regnerus used a “loaded classification system” — in lay terms, he stacked the deck — to deliver that result.

Last week, the topic popped up in the comments on a MinnPost story about a group of former Roman Catholic priests who have signed a statement opposing the effort to amend Minnesota’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

It’s worth delving into the controversy that has mounted — slowly — in the wake of the study’s release. The research almost certainly will be raised again and again here as we get closer to the election and debate about the ballot question heats up.

And because, as it happens, Regnerus’ research was funded by a right-wing group with ties to the main group promoting the constitutional amendment here and similar efforts elsewhere, the National Organization for Marriage.

And one of NOM’s possible strategies, according to internal documents recently disclosed as part of a lawsuit in Maine, is to locate children of LGBT parents and document their unhappiness about their upbringing. (There is no evidence that such efforts actually occurred.)

And, to close the loop, the study’s findings were used in an amicus brief filed in an appeal pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in June. The brief argued that the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is constitutional, an assertion a lower federal court rejected.

Regnerus’ work was funded by more than $750,000 from two conservative groups, including a $55,000 grant to underwrite the hotly criticized process of designing the study. The bulk of the money came from the Witherspoon Institute, whose co-founder, Robert George, is also NOM’s chairman emeritus.

NOM has spent millions of dollars underwriting amendment campaigns throughout the country, including Minnesota’s, but has consistently refused to comply with campaign finance and lobbying laws requiring it to disclose its donors.

The money trail was not the first road critics went down. Soon after the study began generating headlines, social scientists at UT and elsewhere took a look at its sample and methodology.

Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, found and parsed documents describing the study’s design submitted both to UT and to Social Science Research, the for-profit, corporately owned journal that published the results.

Writing on the blog Family Inequality, Cohen noted that Regnerus began collecting data last August, prodded survey subjects for responses through Jan. 17 and submitted his paper to the journal Feb. 1, three weeks before his data was to be complete and nearly four weeks before it was due to his university minders.

The paper was “submitted, revised, and accepted within six weeks,” noted Cohen. Not impossible for a peer-review process, but certainly not the norm.

(It’s a lot of detail for a general interest audience, but readers who are interested in the peer review process in this instance may want to follow the very opinionated blogging by The New Civil Rights Movement’s Scott Rose, who is getting interesting answers to admittedly shrill questions.)

Digging into the data sets posted online by the journal and UT, other social scientists quickly noted that only about 250 of the 3,000 survey respondents had an LGBT parent or a parent who had had any kind of same-sex relationship and that only two were raised for more than a short period of time with their parent’s same-sex partner.

“Indeed, the study acknowledges that what it's really comparing with heterosexual families is not families headed by a same-sex couple but households in which parents broke up,” Nathaniel Frank, a visiting scholar at Columbia's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, wrote in a commentary published by the LA Times. " 'A failed heterosexual union,’ Regnerus writes in the study, ‘is clearly the modal method’ — the most common characteristic for the group that he lumps in with same-sex-headed households.”

A sound study design would have compared people raised by intact heterosexual couples with those raised by stable gay and lesbian couples, he and other critics asserted. One, a professor at the University of California Law School, asserted that it was “designed to find bad outcomes" for same-sex families.

Others, including the left-leaning Media Matters, have gone further: “One of the study's most disturbing findings is that children with gay parents reported significantly higher rates of sexual abuse — including rape — by parents or adult figures as kids than children raised by married, heterosexual parents,” a post on its site notes. “It's unclear why rates of abuse differ between the two groups, but anti-gay activists have touted the finding as evidence of the long-disproven ‘gays are pedophiles’ myth.

“American Family Association (AFA) spokesman Bryan Fischer cited the study as evidence that allowing gay couples to adopt is ‘a form of sexual abuse,' " the entry added. “Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) referenced the study while arguing ‘you're more likely basically to get molested in a household led by two lesbians.' "

Regnerus has consistently said neither he nor his work is political, and suggests that he is simply more willing to wade into controversy than other scholars. His past research has centered on the benefits of early marriage and "hookup culture."  

As reported by BuzzFeed: “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.’”

Blogger Rose has filed a complaint with UT officials, who are conducting an inquiry to determine whether a formal investigation is warranted. The institution has also declined to respond to reporters’ requests for data while it is under way.

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Comments (39)

Just to break it down for people

If experimenting explicitly on same sex households vs. hetero households, this clown had a control group of 2,998 and an experimental group of 2. Wow.

Couple of points.

"A sound study design would have compared people raised by intact heterosexual couples with those raised by stable gay and lesbian couples"

I've seen this critique. Turns out kids raised by "stable gay and lesbian couples" are a sort of statistical unobtainum. Either because not many gays have children in their homes, or because "stability" in such homes doesn't last long enough in enough of them to provide a valid comparison with normal, heterosexually headed households.

On another aspect, I wonder if anyone else notices that to give weight to the guilt by association logical fallacy being presented by gays & their leftist allies, Beth cites leftist sources solely.

Regnerus is to be commended as much for the courage to publish it as for the content of his research. It is only through such leadership that others will find the courage to speak the truth.

Uhm, wrong

there are many stable gay and lesbian couples out there. I know several. As for children, there are thousands of gay couples who have adopted or used other means to have children. You'd have to be hiding under a rock not to know that. In fact, gay adoption in California substantially reduced the number of kids languishing in foster care there.

I feel sorry for people who have such small social circles they actually don't know these things. It's got to be increasingly difficult to navigate the modern world from a self-imposed virtual monastery.

Mostly Not true

While it may have been true for this "study" that Regernus might have had difficulty finding adults for his surveys, these days, it's quite simple to find plenty of children, even teenagers that have been raised in stable, same-sex couple headed households.

And even if it were true, that doesn't change the fact that Regernus makes irrelevant comparisons that render any conclusions drawn complete bunk.


Joe Valentine is a major league baseball player raised since birth in 1979 by his female parents. There are hundreds of thousands of such families in the United States. Regnerus's effort to survey an adequate number of such families, was not adequate to the goal. Regnerus is not excused from making an adequate effort to survey members of a minority, only because the minority is small, and thus, to be meaningfully surveyed in a random national survey, one would have to devote far more resources in money and time than Regnerus did. After all, if you wanted to study Jains in the United States, on a random national sampling method basis, you would have actually to randomly sample enough people that you actually surveyed a useful number of US Jains. There is nothing "courageous" about carrying out a fraudulent study design and then making no valid comparison between one's test group and control group. Doing that is absurd and outrageous; not courageous. Evaluating the study for its scientific legitimacy has nothing to do with "left" or "right" politics. Here are the relevant questions: 1) Does the Regnerus study make a valid comparison between its test and control groups? Answer: No. 2) Does that automatically make the whole study invalid? Answer: Yes. It is as though a chemistry researcher announced he had "discovered" that water is 8 parts hydrogen and zero parts oxygen, and then you complain that the critics of that can not possibly be correct in their criticism, because they are "gays and their leftist allies." Do you call former Vice President Dick Cheney a "leftist ally"? He does support equality.

Specious claim

"Turns out kids raised by stable gay and lesbian couples are a sort of statistical unobtainum."

Prove it.

He can't prove it

Don't hold your breath waiting for Mr. Swift to provide "evidence." Mr. Swift is well-known by frequent visitors to MinnPost to make wholly unsubstantiated, wild claims (just like his patron saint, Rep. Bachmann). Not only are there hundreds of thousands of kids raised by stable gay and lesbian couples (I personally can name several dozen kids just from my daughters' roster of friends that are the product of long-term, stable gay and/or lesbian households), but we are far enough along into creating family equality that we can find thousands of adult children of stable same-sex households. The unicorn here isn't happy children from stable same-sex couples, it is honest conservatives.

Oh, I know

But letting the "truthiness claims" gain traction through repetition without challenge has a lot to do with how we got into this mess in the first place. That is why whenever I see someone post a "statement of fact" without any documentation supporting it, I call them out on it.

It's kind of funny, because in a separate thread, someone thought he'd be "cute" by "calling me out" on a statement I'd made - fully failing to realize, apparently, that I'd made a statement of my own opinion rather than a provable fact.

It's another part of why we're in the mess that we're in that so many people these days seem to be entirely incapable of distinguishing between the two.

Shorty Swiftee

If you cannot actually find subjects for the thing you are studying, just grab some vaguely tangential subjects and call it good.


I could really care nothing about one study or the next at this point. Having parents, whether they are gay or heterosexual couples is a plus. Now, most of us know people who are living in a loving relationship with same genders. Doing wonderful, and are good parents or could be.

One opinion as valid as another.

Thank you for sharing your opinion AIM, but emerging research doesn't bear it out.

An excellent post

on a very shoddy piece of research.

Follow the money…

…still seems to me a worthwhile investigative technique.

“…A sound study design would have compared people raised by intact heterosexual couples with those raised by stable gay and lesbian couples, he and other critics asserted.”

Indeed, and since that doesn’t appear to have been the methodology used in this instance, the results are equivalent to manure. One particularly striking example: “…Digging into the data sets posted online by the journal and UT, other social scientists quickly noted that only about 250 of the 3,000 survey respondents had an LGBT parent or a parent who had had any kind of same-sex relationship and that only two were raised for more than a short period of time with their parent’s same-sex partner.”

’Twould appear that the study reaches rather broad conclusions based on a sample of… two.

I confess I don’t know any gay/lesbian parents personally, but nothing in the study’s conclusions or methodology seems to support the Bachmann-like shrieking emanating from the right. Perhaps a genuine and methodologically-sound study would do so, and thus support that Bachmann-like shrieking, but this is not that study.

It doesn’t pass the smell test, and reeks instead of right wing propaganda.

Sexuality isn't the issue

Aren't our prisons and unemployment lines filled with people raised by heterosexual parents? Obviously being heterosexual or married isn't enough to keep ones' kids out of jail and employed.

Interesting point Steve

"Aren't our prisons and unemployment lines filled with people raised by heterosexual parents? "

But that would also be true of 98% of the people on this planet.

A quick look

at the study shows that he used simple T-tests without any correction for multiple comparisons.
In other words, data mining and cherry picking the data.
Unless I've missed something (I don't have the stomach to read the whole article carefully), this study would not be published by any reputable journal.

Results didn't support Funders

If you look at the actual results, they seem to support the idea that stable relationships are good for kids, regardless of the parents sexual preference. That conclusion would, of course, contradict one of the major arguments being made against letting gays get married.

A headline you'll never see on MinnPost

"Scholars Defend Regenerus Study"

An acknowledgement you'll never read on MinnPost:

".. another study[7] published this month in the [peer reviewed ~ed] Journal of Marriage and Family comes to conclusions that parallel those of Regnerus’s study."

"This study finds that “children in same-sex parent families scored lower than their peers in married, 2-biological parent households” on two academic outcomes, and that these baseline differences can probably be attributed in part to higher levels of family instability in same-sex families, compared to intact, biological married families. This study was also based on a large, nationally representative, and random survey of school-age children; moreover, the same-sex parents in this study lived together."

"The parallels between the findings in this study and Regnerus’s study call into question the New Republic’s claim that the Regnerus study “gets everything wrong.”

This study may not have been the most robust, but it has opened the door for more research and for that alone Regnerus is owed a huge debt of gratitude.

Good luck on this one, Mr. Swift

As Walter Olson, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute put it:

"It was clear from early on that the Regnerus study didn't prove what its backers claimed it did. At this point -- considering the way it fails to handle the issues of proper identification of who's gay, divorce, adoption, poverty, discrimination, and disincentives to stable partnership -- it's bristling with more red flags than a rally in central Pyongyang."

The Regnerus Gay-Parenting Study: More Red Flags

I note that the Cato Institute is hardly a bastion of liberalism. Anyone who is intellectually honest can spot the many flaws in the work of Regnerus as prior commenters have already done.

Your horse is dead. I will not flog it.

Please feel free

to follow the links I've provided, "Prof". As an "academic" you'll appreciate the differences between thoughtful, scholarly consideration and mere bloviation.

Heck, take my horse; he knows the way!

You need to read your own links

Even the defenders of Regnerus you have cited qualify their support and recognize the flaws in his methodology and conclusions. This is from your second link:

"Indeed, it is possible to interpret Regnerus’s findings as evidence for the need for legalized gay marriage, in order to support the social stability of such relationships."

Admitting to flaws is just good science Dan

Regenerus himself admits to flaws. He also points out flaws in studies conducted by pro-homosexual groups. That does not invalidate the science, it provides opportunities for more.

So is questioning the validity of the claims being made . . ..

once the flaws are identified.

The case is unpersuasive at this point in time. For a more persuasive case to be made, it appears that another study would have to actually use a statistically significant (or at least equivalent) sample set representing BOTH populations being compared and studied.

Persuit of the truth is always a good thing, Pat.

More research is needed and as I've said (repeatedly) Regenerus' biggest contribution may have been to simply have the courage to stand up against the well entrenched, pro-homosexual lobby that exists in academia, the media and pop culture.

Once the ice is broken, more research will follow.

Heck, who knows. Maybe the APA will find the stones to re-examine the decision (made under similarly unconscionable pressure) that has been the cause of so much of the pre-fabbed "science" that supports the notion that sand is food.

As they say, Pat; "The Truth Will Out"

I'm absolutely convinced "The Truth Will Out"

I'm just not convinced it's going to end up being what you apparently think it's going to end up being.


The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion has as its Director Byron Johnson. Johnson's is the first of 18 signatures on the letter. He also is a Senior Fellow of the anti-gay-rights Witherspoon Institute, which funded the Regnerus study and is currently heavily promoting it in an anti-gay-rights political context. Johnson also failed to disclose that Regnerus himself is associated with Baylor. The Baylor letter regurgitates propaganda in favor of the study, without at all even rebutting the accurate, devastating criticisms that have been made of the Regnerus study. One of those devastating criticisms can be found in a brief filed in the Golinski-DOMA case by eight major professional associations, including the American Medical Association. The AMA brief is a "response" to a brief filed by the religious right fringe group "The American College for Pediatrics." The ACP misrepresented what is in the Regnerus study; and the Regnerus study is itself invalid. The AMA brief first debunks ACP's misrepresentations of Regnerus, and then debunks Regnerus. That brief is here: What you have, on the two sides, is a Baylor Institute religious freak, with a conflict of interest in talking about the study, and on the other side, many hundreds of thousands of professionals, leveling devastatingly accurate criticism against the Regnerus study. Additionally, a group of 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s signed a letter to the editor of Social Science Research. That letter deplores the lack of intellectual integrity in Regnerus's study. It is here: As for the Potter study on child education outcomes, it has exactly the same fundamental failing of the Regnerus study. The control group is comprised of children of continuously married heterosexuals. The test group is comprised of parents and/or guardians, who are gay but who are involved in a welter of different situations -- they could be in civil unions, or not -- and they could have adopted the children. When gay couples adopt children, where do the adopted children come from? They were in the foster care system, because their irresponsible heterosexual parents neglected, abused, or abandoned them. So many irresponsible heterosexual parents have abused, neglected and abandoned so many children, that the are not enough available heterosexual adoptive parents to take them all in. When gay parents adopt such children, they are taking on that heightened parenting challenge, of nurturing children victimized by their own heterosexual parents, and trying to bring them "up to speed" educationally. What thanks do those gay parents get from society? A "study" is done of their educational attainments, and the "blame" for the educational 'differences" is pinned on the gay parents who are trying to nurture the children who were abused, neglected and abandoned by irresponsible heterosexuals. What's more is that the Potter study notes this: "he results indicated that
children in same-sex parent families scored lower than their peers in married, 2-biological
parent households, but the difference was nonsignificant net of family transitions." Notice the word "nonsignificant" differences. There is nothing about a homosexual parent's sexual orientation, per se, that provokes inferior educational attainments in gay parents' children.


If you take a moment to read the letter of 200+ Ph.D.s and M.D.s you'll find most of them linked to homosexual rights groups. It's no surprise they are upset after having spent so much time and effort laying out their alternate reality.

That is to say I don't acknowledge their credentials in regards to this issue, but I wouldn't call them frauds.

For those that may be interested...

... in actually giving the research a thoughtful consideration, I'd like to share this excellent critique:

Are Gay Parents Worse Parents?

The paper has already been debunked, Mr. Swift

"giving the research thoughtful consideration"

This has been done. By a large group of people (200+ professionals) who wrote to the journal in which the Regnery paper was published:

Letter to the editors and advisory editors of Social Science Research

"We are very concerned about the academic integrity of the peer review process for this paper as well as its intellectual merit. We question the decision of Social Science Research to publish the paper, and particularly, to publish it without an extensive, rigorous peer review process and commentary from scholars with explicit expertise on LGBT family research. The methodologies used in this paper and the interpretation of the findings are inappropriate."

I commend your attention to the full text of this letter at the link below as well as the signatories which include well recognized national and international scholars in the areas of sociology and family studies.

Bombshell Letter: 200+ PhDs And MDs Question Scholarly Merit Of Regnerus Study

Thanks for the link

Being someone who appreciates information from many sources, I was pleased to follow your link, "Prof. Being a careful reader, I couldn't help but notice that most of the people quoted in the article had a connection to gay rights activism.

They don't provide any further scientific insights, but are certainly as welcome to their opinios as any one else.

More information of interest to the thoughful reader...

"In a response that appears in the same issue of the journal Social Science Research, demographer Cynthia Osborne says that “the Regnerus study is more scientifically rigorous than most of the other studies in this area.”

"Penn State sociologist Paul Amato writes that the NFSS “is probably the best that we can hope for, at least in the near future.”

"Another Penn State sociologist, David Eggebeen, concludes that Regnerus’s study and Loren Marks’s analysis of prior studies, published in the same journal, “offer reasonable arguments for…more caution when drawing strong conclusions based on the available science.”

Even More of Interest to the Thoughtful Reader

Amato and Osborne were paid consultants on the Regnerus study.

Osborn and Amato

"We further question the selection of commenters for the Regnerus paper. While Cynthia Osborne and Paul Amato are certainly well-respected scholars, they are also both active participants in the Regnerus study. According to her curriculum vitae, Dr. Osborne is a Co-Principal Investigator of the New Family Structure Survey. Dr. Amato served as a paid consultant on the advisory group convened to provide insights into study design and methods. Perhaps more importantly, neither Osborne nor Amato have ever published work that considers LGBT family or parenting issues."

Letter to the editors and advisory editors of Social Science Research
Signed by 200+ Phds and MDs

That letter would have had more credibility

if the signors would have had the honesty to admit their own connections to pro-homosexual groups.

It's no surprise they are upset after having spent so much time laying out their somkescreen only to have it blown away.

But as to the marriage question...

For most real-life kids living in a family headed by two same-sex adults, the question isn't whether they would have been better off if they instead lived with two opposite-sex adults -- even if the study told us that. The real question is whether the kids are better off if the same-sex adults they live with are allowed to marry or are forced to remain an unmarried couple. I would have thought that was an easy question. I recently wrote a letter to the editor on this topic:

Dear Mr Swift

Where oh where do you get your "Facts"?

From Medical News Today

David Eggebeen, Associate Professor of Human Development and Sociology at Pennsylvania State University, said:

"Dr. Marks' paper, by turning a bright light on the shortcomings of previous work, challenges researchers to develop better data and conduct kinds of analyses that allow more confidence in generalizations. The Regnerus paper introduces a data set based on a national probability sample that has the potential to address some of Mark's criticisms. The analyses in the Regnerus paper are provocative but far from conclusive. These very preliminary findings should not detract from the real importance of this paper, the description of a new data set that offers significant advantages."

Professor Cynthia Osborne from the University of Texas at Austin, explained:

"Whether same-sex parenting causes the observed differences cannot be determined from Regnerus' descriptive analysis. Children of lesbian mothers might have lived in many different family structures and it is impossible to isolate the effects of living with a lesbian mother from experiencing divorce, remarriage, or living with a single parent. Or, it is quite possible, that the effect derives entirely from the stigma attached to such relationships and to the legal prohibitions that prevent same-sex couples from entering and maintaining 'normal relationships'."

Pennsylvania State University, sociologist and professor Paul Amato said:

"If growing up with gay and lesbian parents were catastrophic for children, even studies based on small convenience samples would have shown this by now [...] If differences exist between children with gay/lesbian and heterosexual parents, they are likely to be small or moderate in magnitude - perhaps comparable to those revealed in the research literature on children and divorce."

One piece of research is not conclusive.

As I've pointed out several times, Regenerus's greatest contribution may be that he was willing to persevere the predictable brickbats from pro-homosexual groups and their allies.

More research is required, and Dr. Regenerus has provided the example for others to follow.

Straight out of PR Playbook

Don't like the findings of a health study that links cigarettes to cancer?
1) commission your own study that supports your cause. It doesn't matter if it is based on specious facts, you have set the machine in motion.
2) Hire a PR firm to form and fund stealth campaign that creates a bastion of community groups to support it. (1-800 number goes to the PR firm).
3) Hire another PR firm to run a stealth campaign of fear of loss of freedom to ignite the community (You won't be able to smoke in a bar! Your favorite bar will go broke!)
4) Be prepared for when the research gets refuted by paying other scientists a lot of money to question the credentials of the scientists. Keep your attackers on retainer with a lot of money.
5) Donate a lot of money to friendly politicians who write friendly legislation that they introduce into Congress even though you know it won't pass. By having politicians endorse your view, it gives it legitimacy
6) Hire a third PR agency to run a positive campaign (TV Ads) with your lovely face on it showing you are a wonderful group trying to save the world. Everyone will love you.
7) Recruit other industries to join your cause so you don't have to fund it all.
8) Don't give up, keep all of the above in motion for as long as it takes --profit is at stake here.
9) Never underestimate the stupidity of the public.

It worked for the Tobacco Industry (No FDA regulation), the Insurance industry (ACA = Insurance bonanza), the mining industry (Govt regulations = bad), the oil industry (Climate change is phoney), the finance industry (The Tea Party) and on and on and on.

If it works for the corporate plutocracy it can work for a theocracy.

Latest developments in the Regnerus saga..

I'd encourage those with an interest in this topic to have a look at the latest developments which are reported today in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Controversial Gay-Parenting Study Is Severely Flawed, Journal’s Audit Finds

from that article:

At the suggestion of another scholar, Wright, a professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida, assigned a member of the journal’s editorial board—Darren E. Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale—to examine how the paper was handled.

Sherkat was given access to all the reviews and correspondence connected with the paper, and was told the identities of the reviewers. According to Sherkat, Regnerus’s paper should never have been published. His assessment of it, in an interview, was concise: “It’s bullshit,” he said.