Critics Challenge Findings, Funding and Methodology of Controversial Gay-Parents Study

By Hawkins, Beth | MinnPost.com, July 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Critics Challenge Findings, Funding and Methodology of Controversial Gay-Parents Study


Hawkins, Beth, MinnPost.com


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:

[bullet] 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.

[bullet] 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. …

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