The Regnerus study goes to court, trailing briefs

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.

13 thoughts on “The Regnerus study goes to court, trailing briefs

  1. Other organizations signed on to the APA brief, right? I wondered whether ASA had been approached about that, although I guess my assumption is no, as I haven’t heard anything about it.


  2. Kudos to APA and the others for working so quickly. It would be a good thing for ASA to do likewise, but obviously we don’t have the capacity to respond the way APA does—there is no way ASA could have pulled off a two week response time.


  3. But there is a way we could start now to be sure to have one ready when this kind of case, whether it is this one or not, gets to the supreme court, because it will. We have done this before and we can do it again…


  4. The American Sociological Association has a duty of conscience immediately to put out a press release explaining point by point, every last one of its Code of Ethics points that Regnerus has violated with his study. The study is invalid on for multiple reasons, but because of its invalid comparison between a test group and control group, alone, it is invalid. Court briefs are fine, but Regnerus and his funders have been using his invalid study and compounding the offense by misrepresenting what it says to the public. Those publicity efforts, made in an anti-gay-rights political context in an election year, are toxic. The bottom line of the Regnerus/NOM study is that “Homosexuals are dangerous to children,” echoing NOM’s uses of the discredited Paul Cameron to communicate that same defamatory message to the public. Just this week, a lesbian woman in Nebraska was attacked by home invaders who tied her up and carved the word Dyke into her abdomen with a knife. They also spray painted the interior walls of her home; one of the messages they left was “Keep Away From Children, Dyke.” That is the NOM/Regnerus message right there. Yeah, you can’t hold Regnerus/NOM personally criminally accountable for that, but you can demand that Regnerus release to the public right now a clarification that he found no causation between a gay parent and child sex abuse. He has been intentionally misleading the public on that one. He has said that because his “household calendar” allows him to understand whether the alleged sex abuse occurred after the parent had a ‘same sex romantic relationship,” that he can figure out *when* the alleged sex abuse happened. What he doesn’t tell the public, is that he can not tell from his data who of the “parent or guardian” carried out the alleged abuse. It could as well be the divorced heterosexual father as the inappropriately labeled “lesbian mother.” Or, it could be a priest. Or a baby sitter. Yet Rengerus has been making misleading statements to the public, that he can “tell” when the abuse occurred. He clearly is conveying the idea that the abuse can be pinned on the “gay” parent. The American Sociological Society should not let this go, as though it didn’t matter.


  5. Philip Cohen asks, “Should the American Sociological Association get involved?”

    Are you kidding me? I think it would be malfeasance if they DIDN’T file an Amicus Breif. Not only the FAKE American College of Pediatricians, but BLAG (The House Republicans) submitted their brief in Golinski last week with Regnerus in it. They gave it quite a bit of real estate. This was as Sociologist whose research is being quoted to the Supreme Court. In Golinski vs OPM the Justice Dept has filed a petittion for Cert and to skip the Appeals Panel.

    When the Supreme Court sits down to decide if they are going to give Cert or not, they will be reading the 2 Briefs that already have Regnerus in them.

    Look this was a Sociologist from a big University who published this study that is now being misrepresented to the Supreme Court, if it isn’t the job of the American Sociological Association to set the Supreme Court clear on what the research shows (not much) and what it doesn’t show (a lot) then whose job is it?

    It is the Responsibility of the American Sociological Association to file a Brief on this. It was a Sociologist who wrote it, it is the National Sociological Association who needs to lay out the truth. What do you think the Supreme Court Justices are going to do, Google it for information? Hell no they are just are going to accept what is in the briefs and they WILL NOTICE that the American Sociological Association DID NOT File. If you don’t file a Brief it makes the Regnerus Research look stronger.


  6. Just so you know I have sent at least 10 e-mails to Dr. Erik Olin Wright, the Editors of the Journal Social Science Research, idividaully to Amato, individually to Dr. moor at UCLA, begging them to file an Amicus Breif. I sent them an e-mail after the fake American College of Pediatricians Filed their Amicus Breif, after Windsor (another DOMA case) filed for Cert at the Supreme Court, I e-mailed them when BLAGG (The House Republicans) filed thier brief citing regnerus.

    I have tried my heart out to get anyone from the American Sociological Association to respond to me. Dr. Erik Olin Write told me that he would have to get pressure from members. And then he would wait until August. What is that saying Rome burned while somebody was fiddling? He would not just automatically file a brief. I sent him the ACA Brief he could see it was a bald faced lie what they claimed. I though his reasons were Lame for not doing anything. He is busy, they don’t have a staff attorney etc. When this is one of the biggest trials for gay rights, he simply, to put it bluntly, wasn’t interested.

    I have tried and tried and tried to get anybody to listen to me that you need to file an Amicus brief.


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