Children in same-sex parent families, dead horse edition

Not that child well-being in different kinds of families isn’t a legitimate research topic, but this idea of proving same-sex parents are bad to whip up the right-wing religious base and influence court cases is really a shark jumping over a dead horse.

Without getting into all the possible detail and angles, here are some comments on the new research published by D. Paul Sullins, which claims to show negative outcomes for children with same-sex parents. Fortunately, I believe the legal efficacy of this kind of well-being witch-hunt research evaporated with Anthony Kennedy’s Windsor decision. Nevertheless, the gay-parents-are-bad-for-kids research community is still attempting to cause harm, and they still have big backers, so it’s important to respond to their work.

Research integrity

Below I will comment a little on the merits of the new studies, but first a look at the publication process and venues. As in the case of the Regnerus affair, in which Brad Wilcox, Mark Regnerus, and their backers conspired to manufacture mainstream legitimacy, Sullins is attempting to create the image of legitimate research, which can then be cited by advocates to the public and in court cases.

Although he has in the past published in legitimate journals (CV here), Sullins’ work now appears to have veered into the netherworld of scam open access journals (which, of course, does not include all open-access journals). Maybe this is just the decline of his career, but it seems they think a new round of desperate “peer-reviewed” publishing will somehow help with the impending legal door-slam against marriage inequality, so they’re rushing into these journals.

Sullins has three new articles about the mental health of children with same-sex parents. The first, I think, is “Bias in Recruited Sample Research on Children with Same-Sex Parents Using the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ).” This was published in the Journal of Scientific Research and Reports. The point of it is that same-sex parents who are asked to report about their children’s well-being exaggerate how well they’re doing.

The second paper is “Child Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Same-Sex Parent Families in the United States: Prevalence and Comorbidities.” It was published on January 21 in the British Journal of Medicine & Medical Research (sometime in the years since I wrote this post, the journal seems to have changed it’s name to Journal of Advances in Medicine and Medical Research, and the article is now listed as having been published there on the same date). It claims that children living with same-sex parents, surveyed in the National Health Interview Survey, are more likely to have ADHD than “natural” children of married couples.

The third — the one I call third because it doesn’t seem to have actually been published yet — is, “Emotional Problems among Children with Same-sex Parents: Difference by Definition,” in the British Journal of Education, Society & Behavioural Science. It’s point is the same as the second, with slightly different variables. (It’s archived here.) This is the one Mark Regnerus referred to in a post calling attention to Sullins’ work. (The legitimacy strategy is apparent in Regnerus naming the fancy-sounding journal in the opening sentence of his post.)

What makes these scam journals? The first clue is that two of them have “British” in the name, despite not being British in any way (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They are all published by Science Domain, which is listed on “Beall’s List” of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers.” They are not published by academic societies, they are not indexed by major academic journal databases, they publish thousands of papers with little or no peer review (at the expense of the authors), and they recruit authors, editors, and reviewers through worldwide spam campaigns that sweep up shady pseudo-scholars.

For the first two, which have been published, Science Domain documents the review process. The first paper, “Bias in Recruited Sample…,” first had to overcome Reviewer 1, Friday Okwaraji, a medical lecturer at the University of Nigeria, who recommended correcting a single typo. Reviewer 2, identified as “anonymous/Brazil,” apparently read the paper, suggesting several style changes and moving some sentences, and expressing misgivings about the whole point. After revisions, the editor considered the two reviews carefully, and then wrote to the managing editor, “Please accept the paper, it is okay.” It was submitted November 18, 2014 and accepted December 17, 2014.

The second paper, “Child ADHD…,” also shows its peer review process [2022 update: sadly, the files are no longer on the site]. Reviewer 1 was Renata Marques de Oliveira at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. In 2012 she was listed as a masters student in psychiatric nursing, and is in 2015 was an RN. This is the entirety of her review of Sullins’ paper:


OK, then.

The second review is by Rejani Thudalikunnil Gopalan, described as a faculty member at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, or maybe Gujarat Forensic Sciences University, Gujarat, India. She was recently spotted drumming up submissions for a special issue of the scammy American Journal of Applied Psychology (“What? We didn’t say it was the same journal as the Journal of Applied Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association!”). The journal AJAP is published by the Science Publishing Group (see Beall’s List), but I couldn’t investigate further because their website happens to be down.

Unlike Oliveira, Gopalan seems to have read the paper, and offered a few superficial questions and suggestions [2022: now lost] – not quite the very worst review from a legitimate journal that I have ever read. After a cursory reply, the editor responded (in full): “The authors have addressed all reviewers’ concerns in a satisfactory way. This is an outstanding paper worthy of publication in BJMMR.” It was accepted two weeks after submission.

I don’t want to imply that three journals are illegitimate just because they are run for profit by low-status academics from developing countries. But looking at the evidence so far I think it’s fair to call these journals bogus. However, I wouldn’t argue too much if you wanted instead to say they are merely of the very lowest quality.

Why does a guy at a real university, with tenure, publish three articles in two months at a paper mill like Science Domain? I fear our dear Dr. Sullins has fallen out of love with the scientific establishment. Anyways.


You might say we should just ignore these papers because of their provenance, but they’re out there. Plus, I want people to take my totally unreviewed blog posts seriously, so I should take these at least a little seriously. Fortunately, I can write them off based on simple, complete objections.

Combining the 1997-2013 National Health Interview Surveys, about 200,000 children, Sullins gets 512 children who are living with a same-sex couple (about 16% married, he says). In both the second and third papers, he compares these children to those living with married, biological or adoptive parents who are of different sexes. The basic problem here is obvious, and was apparent in the infamous Regnerus paper as well: same-sex couples, regardless of their history — married, divorced, never-married, just-married, married before the kid was born, just got together yesterday when the kid was 15, and so on — are all combined in one undifferentiated category. This just can’t show you the “effect” of same-sex parenting. (When Regnerus says this research supports the ” basic narrative … that children who grow up with a married mother and father fare best at face value,” he’s slipping in “grow up with,” though he knows the study doesn’t have the information necessary to make that claim.)

However, if Sullins did the data manipulations right — which I cannot judge because I don’t know the data, little detail is provided, and the reviewers have no expertise with it either — there is a simple descriptive finding here that is interesting, if unsurprising: children living with same-sex parents over the period 1997-2013, the vast majority of whom are not married, and presumably did not conceive or adopt the child in their relationship, have more emotional problems and ADHD than children living with their married, biological parents. We have to be smart enough to consider that — if it’s true — without falling into accepting the claim that such problems are the result of same-sex parenting, because that has not been established. Of course, this supports an argument for marriage equality, but it’s also just an empirical pattern worth understanding. If Sullins, Regnerus, and their ilk weren’t so hellbent on opposing homosexuality they could actually provide useful information that might be part of a knowledge base we use to improve children’s lives.

Sullins’ judgment is no doubt clouded by his overarching religious objection to homosexuality, which, he believes, like abortion and contraception,

contravene the natural operation of the body in order to conform human sexuality to the ideals of modernity… By severing the link between sex and children, both [abortion and homosexuality] increase privatization, diminish the social intentionality and form of the sexual union, and undermine the unitive good and the transcendent goal of marriage.

So for him it’s already settled — long before he extruded these papers (and Regnerus has expressed similar views). Apparently they think they just need a few bogus publications to bring the public along.

35 thoughts on “Children in same-sex parent families, dead horse edition

  1. Philip, thank so much for this. It is really important to not ignore this, because of the upcoming court cases on same-sex marriage, including the Supreme Court. It looks like a purposeful strategy to get what looks like research published before the court case, but without much time for other social scientists to review and properly comment on the value of the research. The ASA continues to work on its amicus brief to various courts, and I hope that all the volunteers working on these briefs have time to evaluate the merits of this work as they carry on with this important work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am in Ireland where we are ramping up for the referendum on same-sex marriage in May. If successful this will be the first country to instigate marriage equality by popular vote. This ‘study’ has already been quoted three times by the NO campaigners so I am so glad to have this article to use as a rebuttal.

    I have forwarded this post on to one of the YES groups


  3. I have been waiting for professional (non Catholic Priest) Sociologists to look at these papers and explain them to me. I am not an expert and therefore I look to experts to teach me. However, even being a layman even I saw that Sullins did the exact same thing that Regnerus did, lumped all the children with gay parents into one big blob of a group, with no differentiation. (And readers recall, Regnerus did not EVER validate that the mother was a lesbian or the father was gay as he based his grouping on the question of, “Did your mother or father every have a same sex romance” )

    I read the studies with a layman’s eye and I knew they were bogus, thanks for confirming that. I ought to write a paper and send it into the same publisher, along with my $100, I bet it gets published.


  4. This findings from this research can’t be used to imply that gay parenting is bad for children. But is this any better than the ASA’s amicus brief on gay marriage that cited studies with weak methodology in an attempt to imply that gay parenting isn’t bad for children? The truth is, the data just isn’t good enough (yet) to definitively answer this question either way. Both sides have a political point to make, but I’d rather just wait until we have a large, random, representative, sample of children raised in stable same-sex households until we try to answer this question. I think both sides are trying to make definitive claims with insufficient data so they influence policy decisions.


    1. Yes, the APA, ASA, AMA, and every other professional/scientific group are all fudging the evidence because they are controlled by gay activists? This false equivalency meme is used constantly in many contexts, like global warming and evolution, to denigrate scientific consensus that just so happens to conflict with conservative orthodoxy. Sorry, Regnerus, Sullins, Allen, et. al. are homophobic frauds and no amount of special pleading can excuse that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Phil,

    Did I get the wrong memo? Aren’t we all supposed to love the pay-to-play journals now, ’cause they fight the ASA peer review man…or something? Or are we to only like _some_ of them, like the kind that won’t take Sullins’ monies? Or are they all suspect? Please advise. Maybe the SS boosters could draw up a list of kosher/haram pay-to-plays in soc to help us keep it all straight?


  6. The Mark Regnerus Article was published at the same time another article was published in Australia.
    MercatorNet is Opus Dei, the editor is Opus Dei and they show on their website that they are an affiliate of the Witherspoon Institute. As most of us know The Witherspoon Institute funded Regnerus for almost $700,000 on his anti gay parenting study. The Witherspoon Institute Publishes Public Discourse, which Published Regnerus’ article this week promoting these 3 new fake anti gay parenting studies. On MercatorNet I saw this comment about the Journal that published 2 of the studies the 3rd one as close as I can tell has not been published in the British Journal, the one that purports to show children with gay parents have emotional problems. Anyway I though this comment I read is helpful-

    “I am an educational researcher who has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and I have to agree with David that this journal is a scam. To add to his comment: The journal’s original title was “British Journal of Educational Research”, a name deliberately chosen to be very similar and therefore easily confused with the British Educational Research Association’s British Educational Research Journal—which by contrast is a very well-known and highly regarded publication venue. Faced with the prospect of a lawsuit from BERA, ScienceDomain International, the publishers of “British Journal of Educational Research”, were forced to change its name to “British Journal of Education, Society & Behavioural Science”.

    I also wish to point out that the “British Journal of Educational Research” is listed on Beall’s List of predatory publishers, which is seen as a “go-to” resource for those with an interest in scholarly open-access publishing:…”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Straight Grandmother, you do NOT need a so-called modern, “SCIENTIFIC” study, to see for yourself, the FACTS OF NATURE!!


  7. Reblogged this on Bruiser Blog and commented:
    I don’t usually spend much time discussing gay parenting. I continue to believe parenting and marriage are linked but separate issues, and parenting is used as a straw man against marriage equality. However, knowing full well that invoking children often causes people’s brains to bypass their logic centers and head right for emotional reactions, equality foes keep trying to smear same-sex parents. Their means of doing so are questionable–at best. This post helps shine some light on their latest attempts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have it all BACKWARDS!! In Mother Nature, there is NO SUCH THING– as the non-existent “EQUALITY” you are falsely demanding! And a child is a BIG RESPONSIBILITY, for NORMAL parents!! ABNORMAL PEOPLE over-react, emotionally, childishly, and REFUSE TO FACE LIFE’S FACTS, when they realize, they are NOT suited, by Nature– to be parents!! So– go find something else to do, and be happy! You can’t unrealistically demand what is NOT RIGHT, in life! A child deserves NORMALCY– NOT sickness, and immorality, and PURE SELFISHNESS!


      1. OK, I’ll BITE because work is SLOW at the moment…

        You’re correct that there is no “EQUALITY” in the sense that you say we are “falsely demanding” in “Mother Nature”.

        But that’s OK, because the EQUALITY we are actually demanding is equality under the laws of the our nation and its various states. Laws written by man, with no equivalent in “Mother Nature”. In nature, the weakest (physically) get picked on and often killed and eaten, and if you’re outnumbered you’re probably in big trouble. Fortunately, human beings have evolved beyond all other animals on this planet, and established societies with laws, protecting the weak and the minorities from being eaten (figuratively) by the strong and the many.

        I’m going to guess that by “NORMAL parents” you refer to opposite-sex parents with their own biological offspring. And those “NORMAL parents” can produce some seriously fucked-up children. Do gay parents do any worse? The POINT of this WHOLE PIECE is that there is NO hard EVIDENCE that they do.

        Kids deserve a safe home and parents who love, protect and nourish them. That’s the bottom line, despite all your vitriol, Ms. Natural Mom. I hope the best for your children; considering the mother nature has given them, the deck is stacked against them.


  8. This is the dark underbelly of the internet. Sadly those who just want to make a point won’t care whether the journals are bogus or not. As with climate change deniers, it’s numbers that count, not quality. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  9. [SNIP — you get the idea -pnc] No one needs these studies! See the truth, for yourself— like mature adults! And STOP FORCING your SICKNESS on the public, like crazy, wild, demonic ISIS leaders! Everyone knows the truth, deep down, but may not have the courage, to say it! And little children, are a BIG, ADULT RESPONSIBILITY, FOR NATURAL, NORMAL PARENTS!! THAT IS WHERE A CHILD TRULY BELONGS!! STOP CHEATING THESE POOR, HELPLESS CHILDREN, OUT OF WHAT IS TRULY RIGHT FOR THEM!! [I left this in because comparing gay parents to ISIS was a new one. -pnc]


  10. Yes they are grubby and sordid papers but they do the job of highlighting the bias inherent in the Australian study and give it the very easily accepted reason of parent over-reporting. That will stick I think. It is a pity that Crouch’s paper on study recruitment doesn’t plug this hole, eg that the differences in results could be due to SES but that hasn’t been determined. Even though it was very well known at the inception of his study that convenience sampling would be confounded by SES (see his paper, pg 3, BMC Public Health 2012, 12:646), a strong determinant of child wellbeing, that data was not collected (or reported).

    In the end we are comparing grubby with tainted and some will not see the difference, unfortunately.


    1. Nice try but the difference is that Crouch disclosed his methods, which despite its limitations are perfectly reasonable for small, rare populations whilst Sullins is a Focus on the Family hack trying to smear gay families. Conservatives love to peddle these false equivalences but its all just cover for homophobic BS.


      1. Disclosed his methods? Is there any other way of publishing research? This was not in some entertainment magazine, this was academic publishing of research.

        It is not reasonable nor moral to know and tell that SES will confound the data and then subsequently ignore this likelihood because you like the look of the data’s positive and egocentric answer. It is in fact far easier to collect SES data if you have less people which might just be a question on family income bracket, so there is no excuse. That is why we write research papers and have them peer reviewed – to discuss the validity and limitations of the results from an objective point of view – which starts with the obvious like SES. It is not a bragging exercise where these issues are ignored for politics. Above all, it wasn’t necessary as the GLBT kids are very unlikely to be doing worse than other kids if the result was adjusted.

        My research experience comes from being a technical specialist in molecular biology pushing the technology to its limits and I discovered how difficult it is to persuade people with unpalatable messages from my research (eg doesn’t actually work) because they pick on any minor reason why it might be confounded and not apply to them. This is why I am concerned that “in the end we are comparing grubby with tainted and some will not see the difference, unfortunately.”

        Do you etseq97 have an objective point of view about SES confounding research design and any concerns how this might affect uptake of the results? Or are you just a political hack too?


      1. I think this is mostly great news – publishing an argument that is completely dependent on selective subjective Christian supremacy taints the rest of his meanderings with the same which I think in Australia would automatically veto any public funding for his research and that would make his tenure unviable. He can’t even use same-sex marriage without quotations to mitigate its meaning when this meaning is the reality in many states and countries. When he is arguing about the goodness of the law he should at least acknowledge the law but he prefers to show his bias.

        His arguments are very much restricted to the USA. He seems oblivious that most other Western countries do not have anti-abortion law reform movements of significance – in Australia it is far right wing and largely viewed as harassment. Importantly though, he does describe our converse stance that religious objections to contraception, abortion and homosexuality are just that and should be held in private and not transplanted from USA and forced upon people contrary to our democratic processes of decades ago. But he is wrong that this is ‘reframing’ by advocates because it is simply the dominant opinion.


  11. Well here we are almost one year later. Dr Walter Schumm Assistant Prof Family Studies (I think I rememebr that he is an Assistant but I might be wrong) at Kansas State University, recall Dr Schumm? He was one of Regnerus’ consultants. Dr Schumm has published an “epic” 40 page paper in wait for it, drum roll,
    The American Journal of Applied Psychology.
    I didn’t even go read the thing, Dr Schumm writes about his study at the opus dei and Witherspoon affiliated website out of Australia who last year named Mark Regnerus “Dignitarian of the Year”


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