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‘Marriage Minute’ ad relies on much-criticized research

The online ad from Minnesotans for Marriage alleges that same-sex parents have a negative effect on children they raise.

Minnesota for Marriage, the main group campaigning in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage here, recently released an online spot decrying the “very significant, highly negative” effects of growing up with a  gay or lesbian parent.

The evidence, according to “Minnesota Marriage Minute” No. 34: The “first large-scale, random-sample and peer reviewed study,” which was “designed by eight highly acclaimed academics,” and “critiqued by several reviewers, including gay marriage supporters.”  

Young adults who have a parent who spent any time in a same-sex relationship scored worse on some 40 social outcomes, according to the four-minute video, ranging from being “10 times more likely to have been touched sexually by an adult” to being “four times more likely to currently be on welfare.”

The back-story the spot doesn’t delve into: The study in question is the subject of a highly critical internal audit conducted by Social Science Research, the journal that published it in June. The audit will appear in the November issue of the publication.

Scathing overview in Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education reviewed a draft of the audit and published a scathing overview. Because of “both ideology and inattention” the “peer-review process failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems,” the auditor noted, not least the fact that several of the peer reviewers had ties to the study’s author, Mark Regnerus, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Mark Regnerus
Mark Regnerus

In an interview with the Chronicle, auditor Darren E. Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and a member of the journal’s editorial board, had a more succinct summation: “It’s bullshit.”

(He also offered an explanation for the journal’s decision to publish Regnerus’ paper and an equally suspect companion study. “In his audit, Sherkat reveals that all the reviewers declared that the paper would generate ‘enormous interest,’ ” the Chronicle reported. “Enormous interest leads to citations and downloads, which is how a journal’s relevance is judged. The higher the impact of its papers, the greater its prestige.”

Baloney or not, it should come as little surprise that it turned up in Minnesota’s intensifying marriage amendment campaigns. 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.

Most of funding was from Witherspoon Institute

The bulk of the $750,000 that funded the project came from the Witherspoon Institute, whose co-founder, Robert George, is chairman emeritus of NOM. And its conclusions were used in an amicus brief filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in June, arguing that the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is constitutional.

The research is also one of a number of resources available on the website of NOM’s partner in the local vote-yes effort, the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

The research may or may not get a mention in the barrage of vote-yes ads expected to begin airing on TV and radio stations in Minnesota in the next couple of weeks. If it does, it’s not going to get the same relatively lengthy treatment it does in the Marriage Minute video.

The advertisements from both sides are likely to be geared toward reaching undecided voters, voters who need motivation to get to the polls or those whose commitment to a particular position is tentative enough that they can be won over via an emotional appeal.

Arguments to support already strong feelings

The online videos, by contrast, arm people who have strong feelings with arguments to support them. “The ‘Minnesota Marriage Minute’ ads … are all much longer than a minute and hence do not function as ‘ads’ as much as helping people already in favor of the amendment to deepen their understanding of the issues and, hence, their commitment to the amendment,” explained Ed Schiappa, chair of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Communications and an expert on messaging around the campaigns for and against ballot questions here and elsewhere.

“The ‘elaboration likelihood model of persuasion’ predicts that the more you think about the arguments for a particular issue, the more committed you become and the harder it is to change your mind,” he added.

Numerous social scientists have opined that biased and poorly designed or not, another major problem with Regnerus’ paper is that it misrepresents its findings. The author more accurately would have characterized the results as confirming that children raised in intact families do better than those who grow up with parents in unstable relationships, regardless of sexual orientation.

University rejecting blogger’s demand

Meanwhile, University of Texas administrators recently announced they were rejecting a blogger’s demand they investigate Regnerus for academic misconduct. The study’s proponents have billed the announcement as his exoneration.

Others have suggested it’s more accurately depicted as an affirmation of the importance of academic freedom.

“As with much university research, Regnerus’ New Family Structures Study touches on a controversial and highly personal issue that is currently being debated by society at large,” the administrators wrote. “The university expects the scholarly community will continue to evaluate and report on the findings of the Regnerus article and supports such discussion.”  

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/18/2012 - 10:17 am.

    Interestingly enough…

    There was more of an outcry from psychologists when the APA de-listed homosexuality from the DSM.

    But the same sand-is-food crowd that is questioning the review process of Regnerus’ study still trots out that controversial, arbitrary vote (there was no new research cited to support the decision) as it’s sole “scientific” justification.

    I’m sure Regnerus knew beforehand that he would be targeted by homosexual special interest groups and their leftist allies, but he obviously values truth above popularity.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 09/18/2012 - 12:04 pm.

      Please, Mr. Swift, do your research

      The organization in control of the DSM is the APA, the American Psychiatric Association. So presumably psychiatrists were the source of an outcry when homosexuality was removed from the DSM.

      This removal actually occured in 1973. “outcry”? Hardly, except for right wingers such as yourself.

      Since that time other professional organizations have agreed with the APA.

      For example:

      The American Bar Association

      The World Health Organization

      The American Psychological Association – the other APA

      The American Medical Association

      The Academy of Pediatrics and the Council on Child and Adolescent Health


      As for the martyred Mr. Regnerus:

      I am sure that more than half a million dollars in right wing research funding and a life-time of speaking engagements on the rubber chicken circuit will compensate him for persecution from the left. And the judgment of his peers – including the journal in which the vaunted research was published – that his work is “bullshit.” (As mentioned in the article – I would merely characterize it as grossly incompetent.)

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/18/2012 - 02:43 pm.

        Research indeed, Bill.

        “This removal actually occured in 1973. “outcry”? Hardly, except for right wingers such as yourself.”

        Actually, not so much, Bill. As you like to remind us, Google is your friend:

        The blatantly arbitrary, non-scientific manner with which the DSM has been distorted has discredited it among thoughtful, rational thinkers since 1973. Even the APA doesn’t dispute that political pressure from homosexual special interest groups played a major part in their decision.

        Perhaps you could enlighten us on how politics rightfully impinges upon science?

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/18/2012 - 10:23 am.

    Comparing Apples to Kumquats

    For those who don’t understand what the glaring flaws in this study were,…

    it compared kids in relatively healthy, functional families with heterosexual parents,…

    to kids who had grown up in families which came apart when one parent “came out” and the parents divorced as the result.

    Many other studies which have compared the kids of intact homes where the parents were a gay couple to kids with straight parents have produced neutral results.

    Furthermore, this wasn’t a random study, but one in which the kids interviewed volunteered to be involved, a technique which always produces seriously skewed results since those with complaints to make are far more likely to volunteer.

    Despite what Mr. Regnerus claimed he was studying, because of the skewed sample he used in the study his results are not valid for the question he claimed to be posing.

    It’s almost guaranteed, however, that a study which compared children of straight parents who divorced to children raised in straight families which remained intact would produce identical results. In the end what Mr. Regnerus was studying was the damaging effects of divorce on children, and, in his analysis, blaming that damage on the cause of those divorces rather than on the divorces, themselves.

    His entire analysis is based on a logical fallacy, or, perhaps more accurately, his study was a classic example of “bait and switch” tactics: purposefully designed to dupe the unwary and the unwise by telling them what they want to hear.

  3. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 09/18/2012 - 10:33 am.

    Regnerus’ New Family Structures Study

    Doesn’t that mean Regnerus (and the rest of the conservatives who support him) are *rejecting* the OLD Family Structures in favor of “new and different” ones? Doesn’t that mean they have rejected the bible (= “old”), which makes them anti-family, anti-Christian, etc, etc?

  4. Submitted by Michele Olson on 09/18/2012 - 11:23 am.

    A good reminder

    Flawed or not, it’s a good reminder that so many of the people voting “yes” are really trying to do the right thing. I disagree with their reasoning, but I don’t think anger and accusation is the right course to take to dissuade them.

  5. Submitted by David Frenkel on 09/18/2012 - 11:25 am.


    This study paints an Ozzy and Harriet world vs gay parenting. It doesn’t mention the unfortunate statistics that 22% of children in the US live in poverty, over half of all hetero marriages end in divorce and over 50% of the children in the US are raised in ‘non-traditional’ families where there may be only one parent or parents are not married. The structure of the American family has been evolving for decades and unfortunately probably not the best for children. Child abuse occurs in all socio-economic families as well as spousal abuse. This amendment pretends to fix all this and bring us all back to an Ozzie and Harriet family that does not exist. Fix the real problems facing and our children and not try to solve what goes on in the bedroom between consenting adults.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 09/18/2012 - 02:26 pm.


      Well said.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/18/2012 - 02:56 pm.

      Straw man, David.

      The study looks into the benefits of stable, mom and dad households, not the unfortunate statistics of those that fail.

      Indeed, if you wanted to get into that, I’m sure it would bear out the fact that divorce is every bit as harmful as “non-traditional” families.

      The structure of the American family is not so much evolving, as falling prey to the decadent “I’m OK, you’re OK” mentality that “progressives” have been championing since the late 1950’s.

      In any event, nothing you’ve presented recommends homosexual parenting in any way.

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