The Regnerus study is going to court.
I wrote about the study previously here and here, and 200 researchers signed a letter about it. The claim of the study is that gay fathers and lesbian mothers are bad for children, and the basic critique is that the study doesn’t address that question (and, what it does address, it does poorly).
The paper was rushed into print with fanfare and press releases, just in time for it to be referenced in the case of Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management, in which the federal Defense of Marriage Act is being challenged, currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In fact, as Neal Caren pointed out to me, the brief was filed the day after the study was published online, June 11. (On a related DOMA case, here’s my take.)
Karin Golinski (right) with her spouse, Amy Cunninghis.
That reference came in a brief submitted by the American College of Pediatricians (not to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics). Taking Regnerus at his word that the study actually measured outcomes associated with “gay fathers” and “lesbian mothers,” they wrote:
A brand new study in the peer-reviewed journal Social Science Research uses a large random national sample to assess these outcomes. The study is based on interviews with 3,000 respondents, 175 of whom were raised by two women and 73 by two men. It looked at “social behaviors, health behaviors, and relationships” comparing child outcomes (as reported by the adult children rather than by those who raised them) among various groups including married biological parents (labeled as IBF for “intact biological family”) and children raised by same-sex couples (labeled LM for lesbian mothers and GF for gay fathers). On the forty outcomes measured, there were significant differences between those in the IBF and LM groups on twenty of those measures (the smaller sample size for fathers did not allow for as many findings of significance). Some of the statistically significant differences where children raised by two women fared worse than children raised by married biological parents included: cohabitation (9% of the IBF and 24% of the LM group), receiving welfare while growing up (17% of the IBF and 69% of the LM group), currently receiving public assistance (10% of the IBF and 38% of the LM group), current employment (49% of the IBF and 26% of the LM group), current unemployment (8% of the IBF and 28% of the LM group), having an affair while married or cohabiting (13% of the IBF and 40% of the LM group), having been touched sexually by a parent or other adult (2% of the IBF and 23% of the LM group), and ever having been forced to have sex against their will (8% of the IBF and 31% of the LM group). In addition, the children raised by two women were significantly less likely to identify as heterosexual (90% of the IBF and 61% of the LM group). Other measures where the children of same-sex couples had significantly greater experience than the children of married biological parents include marijuana use, smoking, being arrested, and numbers of sex partners.
In response, a brief by the American Psychological Association and others offered this correction:
Amicus American College of Pediatricians – not to be confused with amicus herein, the American Academy of Pediatrics – seriously mischaracterizes a recent study (“the Regnerus study”) as having compared children of married heterosexual parents with those “raised by same-sex couples.” Amicus Brief at 6. The Regnerus study placed participants (individuals between the age of 18 and 39) into one of eight categories, six of which were defined by the family structure in which they grew up — e.g., married biological parents, divorced parent, divorced but remarried parent, etc. There was no category for “same-sex couple.” Instead, the final two categories included all participants, regardless of family structure, who believed that at some time between birth and their 18th birthday their mother or their father “ever ha[d] a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex.” Hence the data does not show whether the perceived romantic relationship ever in fact occurred; nor whether the parent self-identified as gay or lesbian; nor whether the same sex relationship was continuous, episodic, or one-time only; nor whether the individual in these categories was actually raised by a homosexual parent (children of gay fathers are often raised by their heterosexual mothers following divorce), much less a parent in a long-term relationship with a same-sex partner. Indeed, most of the participants in these groups spent very little, if any, time being raised by a “same-sex couple.” Hence the Regnerus study sheds no light on the parenting of stable, committed same-sex couples – as Regnerus himself acknowledges – and thus it is gravely misleading to say, as the American College of Pediatricians does (p. 6), that the study involved 175 participants who “were raised by two women and 73 by two men.”
What is an association to do?
Should the American Sociological Association get involved?
Last year there was a spirited debate on the blogs and around the ASA about the ASA’s brief intervening in the Wal-Mart class-action discrimination case. See it at Orgtheory here, here, and here; and at Scatterplot here.
The association can take a minimal approach and simply point out that the Regnerus study doesn’t support the claims it’s carrying here, or it can take a maximal approach and evaluate the research on homogamous-couple parenting, as the APA and other organizations have done. Or it can do nothing.
It seems to be too late to submit something to the Ninth Circuit on the Golinksy case, but if it goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, or when one of the other marriage rights cases rises to this level, the opportunity — or obligation — will arise again.