Matthew J. Franck

Mark Regnerus and the storm over his controversial gay parenting study

Matthew J. Franck
By Matthew Franck

November 19, 2012 (ThePublicDiscourse) - Seldom has the publication of a dry, factual report in sociology caused such a storm of controversy. In June 2012, the bimonthly peer-reviewed journal Social Science Research published an article by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus titled, “How different are the children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.” The answer to his title’s question was: quite a bit different, and most of the differences are not good.

Within minutes, it seemed, Professor Regnerus, a gifted and highly productive scholar with two previous books published on related subjects, was denounced as “anti-gay,” attacked personally and professionally, and his thoughtful, measured research conclusions were buried under an avalanche of invective, abuse, and misunderstanding. For the remainder of the summer months, Regnerus withstood an onslaught of criticism, but as the autumn arrived, it became clear that his reputation and the soundness of his research had been vindicated.

What had happened?

The editor of Social Science Research, Professor James D. Wright of the University of Central Florida, had known that Regnerus’s article would spark discussion about family and sexuality among sociologists. As he would later say himself when others complained that he was trying to drive up the readership of the journal, “guilty as charged.” What editor doesn’t want people reading and talking about what he works so hard to produce?

This is why Wright published, alongside Regnerus’s new research, a probing criticism of the inadequacy of nearly all previous research on the question of parenting by people in same-sex relationships, authored by Professor Loren Marks of Louisiana State University (who was not connected with Regnerus’s new research in any way). It’s also why Wright invited critiques to be published, in the same issue, by three experienced scholars in the sociology of the family (Paul Amato, David Eggebeen, and Cynthia Osborne), with rejoinders by Regnerus and Marks. It made for a very interesting exchange.

The June 2012 issue of SSR was a red-hot topic of controversy because Regnerus and Marks overthrew a “consensus” among sociologists on the “no differences” thesis—the view that there are no meaningful differences, in the life outcomes of children, between those raised by heterosexual parents and those raised by gay or lesbian ones.

In its most extreme form—one that is not even supported by the generally low-quality research published before Regnerus’s article—the “no differences” thesis holds that children raised by parents who have same-sex relationships do just as well as, or in some cases even better than, those raised in the intact biological family by their own natural parents who are and remain faithfully married to each other.

The American Psychological Association, despite the cagy wording of its bombshell assertion, was probably happy to invite this unwarranted inference in its 2005 legal brief, published to influence judicial deliberations in same-sex marriage lawsuits. The APA said “the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.” And who didn’t think of the Ozzie-and-Harriet natural family when reading “heterosexual parents” in that sentence?

But as Loren Marks showed, the 59 studies grounding the APA’s statement were all deeply flawed, with sampling and design problems, inadequate statistical rigor, and conclusions about “no differences” that could not be justifiably generalized to the larger population.

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And whereas Marks offered only well-founded criticism of previous research, Regnerus offered something new: the first research employing a large, random sample of the young adult population, directly asking them about their childhood experiences and their present state of life, across a range of variables touching on economic and educational success, romantic and sexual experience, substance abuse, experiences with crime and violence, and so forth.

Regnerus and his colleagues in the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), working with the research firm Knowledge Networks, screened more than 15,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 39, and interviewed nearly 3,000 of them. The subjects’ family experiences were sorted into eight categories, ranging from the intact biological family (with the subject’s parents still together at the time of interview), across various family structures involving divorce, remarriage, adoption, and single-parenting, with two categories for subjects raised by mothers or fathers who had same-sex romantic relationships during their childhood.

The results were dismal for the “no differences” thesis: on 25 out of 40 outcomes variables, the children of mothers who had had lesbian relationships fared poorly compared to the children of intact biological families. And on 11 of the 40 outcomes, the children of fathers who had had gay relationships fared poorly on the same comparison. (For a summary of the study’s findings, see Ana Samuel’s Public Discourse article, “The Kids Aren’t All Right,” and this link here.)

Regnerus was cautious in his conclusions: he didn’t label poor outcomes as effects of parents’ sexuality, and noted that “a variety of forces uniquely problematic for child development in lesbian and gay families” could account for the phenomena. But, he concluded, “the empirical claim that no notable differences exist must go.”

The high quality of the New Family Structures Study’s research design, data collection, and findings, and the firmness of Regnerus’s conclusion that the “consensus” in sociology was exploded, only seem to have encouraged interested parties, in the academy and outside it, to attempt to debunk the NFSS. UCLA demographer Gary Gates assembled about 200 scholars to denounce Regnerus’s article, but to little substantive effect.

In the public arena, Regnerus saw his research crudely hashed over at The New Yorker, The New Republic, and the Huffington Post, among other places—and found himself caricatured as strapped to a Catherine wheel on the cover of the Weekly Standard. These are not normal experiences for your average stay-at-home sociology professor. Clearly Regnerus’s political adversaries saw much at stake in the public reception of his research. (For the legal stakes, see my Public Discourse essay, “Supreme Court Take Notice: Two Sociologists Shift the Ground of the Marriage Debate.”)

The two main criticisms of Regnerus’s article, repeated in numerous variations, are these. First, he had used the abbreviations “LM” (for “lesbian mother”) and “GF” (for “gay father”) to describe subjects who knew that their mother or father had a romantic same-sex relationship of any length before the subject turned 18.

The use of “LM” and “GF” was culpably misleading, critics claimed, because the category might include persons who never “identified” as lesbian or gay, and might only have had a “one-night stand” with a same-sex partner. The second criticism, closely related, was that in comparing these young people raised in “LM” and “GF” households, so defined, with those raised in “IBF” households—married heterosexual couples raising their own biological offspring and staying together throughout the subjects’ lives (even beyond their childhood, to the present)—Regnerus was comparing apples to oranges.

In their view, he should have compared children of IBF households with children of long-term, intact, stable same-sex couples who identify as gay or lesbian. Then, they were sure, the differences he found would largely disappear—as they claimed was shown by the previous research Regnerus and Marks had each criticized for their small, unrepresentative samples. What he was really doing, they claimed, was setting stable family situations next to unstable ones—and so stability was the real variable at work. To make it seem that the differences were “about” sexuality was worse than an error, critics claimed: this was culpable distortion of the social phenomena, a twisting of social science in the service of conservative ideology.

A third, more ad hominem criticism was that Regnerus received the majority of his grant funding from the Witherspoon Institute (publisher of Public Discourse), and a minority from the Bradley Foundation—both of them viewed as “conservative” institutions in their educational and philanthropic efforts. But Regnerus declared these facts in his original article, and told his readers that neither Witherspoon nor Bradley had any role in shaping the conduct or the conclusions of his research, which he has made wholly transparent. No one has ever gainsaid this avowal on his part. For my part, I can say that Regnerus had no input on my choice to write this account of the controversy or its content.

In the less responsible precincts of the blogosphere, Regnerus was the target of vicious calumnies along the lines described above, one of which led to the opening of an official “inquiry” by the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches, to determine whether he had committed “scientific misconduct.”

At UT, the policy in such matters is that the merest squeak from any party alleging misconduct is enough to trigger a preliminary inquiry, which in 60 days must determine whether a full-blown investigation is warranted. The university swung into action, doing everything by the book, at no little inconvenience to Regnerus, but at the end of August the UT “research integrity officer” concluded that no plausible charge of misconduct could be substantiated. The university’s provost accepted that conclusion, and closed the matter without prejudice to Regnerus’s standing as a scholar and teacher.

Meanwhile SSR editor James Wright was under fire for publishing Regnerus’s article; for appearing to rush it to publication; and for placing Marks’s article alongside it. Opting for transparency at some risk to his own reputation, Wright asked a member of SSR’s editorial board to “audit” the process that led to the publication of Regnerus’s article.

The risk was that he chose Darren E. Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University whom Regnerus would later describe (without fear of contradiction) as someone “who has long harbored negative sentiment about me.” Sherkat, speaking out of school, confidently told a writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education in July that Regnerus’s study was “bull****” when his audit was still in draft form and neither Regnerus nor Wright had written a response to it.

Sherkat’s audit and several other items of interest have now been published in the November 2012 issue of SSR, in a special 40-page section introduced by Wright. To his credit, when he sticks to the charge he was given, Sherkat finds that the journal’s editor did nothing wrong in publishing either Regnerus’s article or Marks’s.

Wright referred both papers to knowledgeable scholars of the subjects involved, who held varying views on the politics of same-sex unions, and who unanimously recommended their publication. No violations of normal procedure occurred; Sherkat says he “may well have made the same decisions” Wright did, given the reviews; and he dismisses as “ludicrous” any suggestion that the editor was up to anything political.

To his discredit, Sherkat, a sociologist of religion who does not appear to have done any research on family and sexuality issues (but for a single article studying how religion and political affiliation affect views of same-sex marriage), nonetheless appoints himself a final referee of the merits of Regnerus’s research—not a function he was asked to perform—and opines that it should not have been published.

James Wright, correctly, takes Sherkat’s conclusions as an auditor as vindication of his editorial performance, and rightly discounts his colleague’s attempt to set himself up as a post hoc referee with a veto over publishing Regnerus’s scholarship. If he sent the work to knowledgeable reviewers who unanimously said to publish it (and Wright notes that such unanimity is unusual), that seems to be the end of the affair.

But it isn’t. In the latest issue Wright chose to publish two significant new contributions to the discussion begun in June. The real issues with Sherkat and other critics are joined by Regnerus, who returns to the pages of SSR with a vigorous response and a re-analysis of his data, and by Professor Walter Schumm of Kansas State, who contributes an expert review of what we know from social science today about the interwoven variables of sexuality, family stability, and childrearing outcomes.

I’ll say more on these contributions in tomorrow’s essay.

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Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Radford University. Reprinted with permission from The Public Discourse.

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Clinton: US needs to help refugee rape victims… by funding their abortions

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By Dustin Siggins

CLINTON, Iowa, November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that U.S. taxpayers should be on the hook for abortions for refugees impregnated through rape.

"I do think we have to take a look at this for conflict zones," Clinton said at an Iowa town hall, according to CNN. "And if the United States government, because of very strong feelings against it, maintains our prohibition, then we are going to have to work through non-profit groups and work with other counties to ... provide the support and medical care that a lot of these women need."

Clinton also said that "systematic use of rape as a tool of war and subjection is one that has been around from the beginning of history" but that it has become "even more used by a lot of the most vicious militias and insurgent groups and terrorist groups."

The prohibition referenced by Clinton – and named by the woman who asked Clinton about pregnant refugees – is known as the Helms Amendment. Made into law in 1973, it prevents U.S. foreign aid funds from being used for abortion.

Abortion supporters have urged the Obama administration to unilaterally change its interpretation of the amendment to allow exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, and if the mother's life is in danger. They argue that because the law specifically states that "[n]o foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning," women who are raped should be excepted.

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In August, 81 Democrats signed a letter to President Obama that urged this course of action. CNN reported that while Clinton didn't call for the Helms Amendment to be changed or re-interpreted, she did support other actions to increase women's access to abortion facilities.

If the United States "can't help them [to get an abortion], then we have to help them in every other way and to get other people to at least provide the options" to women raped in conflict, she said.

"They will be total outcasts if they have the child of a terrorist or the child of a militia member," according to Clinton. "Their families won't take them, their communities won't take them."

A study of women who bore their rape-conceived children during the Rwanda genocide found that "motherhood played a positive role for many women, often providing a reason to live again after the genocide."

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Cardinal Pell bets against the odds: insists Pope Francis will strongly reaffirm Catholic tradition

Andrew Guernsey
By Andrew Guernsey


ROME, November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Contradicting the statements of some of the pope’s closest advisors, the Vatican’s financial chief Cardinal George Pell has declared that Pope Francis will re-assert and “clarify” longstanding Church teaching and discipline that prohibits Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried in public adultery without sacramental confession and amendment of life.

In a homily on Monday, Pell stressed the importance of fidelity to the pope, especially today as “we continue to look also to the successor of St. Peter as that guarantee of unity in doctrine and practice.”

Pell was offering Mass at the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome on the feast of Pope St. Clement I, notable in history for being one of the first popes to exert Roman papal primacy to correct the errors in the doctrine and abuses in discipline which other bishops were allowing.

Turning to address the issues at the Synod on the Family, Pell rebuked those who “wanted to say of the recent Synod, that the Church is confused and confusing in her teaching on the question of marriage,” and he insisted that the Church will always remain faithful to “Jesus’ own teaching about adultery and divorce” and “St. Paul’s teaching on the proper dispositions to receive communion.” Pell argues that the possibility of Communion for those in adultery is “not even mentioned in the Synod document.”

Pell asserted that Pope Francis is preparing “to clarify for the faithful what it means to follow the Lord…in His Church in our World.” He said, “We now await the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, which will express again the Church’s essential tradition and emphasize that the appeal to discernment and the internal forum can only be used to understand better God’s will as taught in the scriptures and by the magisterium and can never be used to disregard, distort or refute established Church teaching.”

STORY: Vatican Chief of Sacraments: No pope can change divine law on Communion

The final document of the synod talks about the “internal forum” in paragraphs 84-86, refers to private discussions between a parish priest and a member of the faithful, to educate and form their consciences and to determine the “possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church,” based on their individual circumstances and Church teaching. The selective quoting of John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio that omitted his statement ruling out the possibility of Communion for those in public adultery has given liberals hope that this “fuller participation” could include reception of Communion.

Pell’s prediction that the pope will side with the orthodox side of this controversy lends two explanations. On one reading, Pell is uncertain what the pope will do in his post-synodal exhortation, but he is using such firm language as a way of warning the pope that he must clearly uphold Church teaching and practice, or else he would risk falling into heresy at worst or grave negligence at best in upholding the unity of the Church.

On another reading, Pell may have inside information, even perhaps from the pope himself, that he will uphold Church teaching and practice on Communion for those in public adultery, that the pope’s regular confidants apparently do not have.

This hypothesis, however, is problematic in that just last week, Pope Francis suggested that Lutherans may “go forward” to receive Holy Communion, contrary to canon law, if they come to a decision on their own, which suggests agreement with the reformers’ line of argument about “conscience.” And earlier last month, the pope granted an interview to his friend Eugenio Scalfari, who quoted the pope as promising to allow those in adultery back to Communion without amendment of life, even though the Vatican refused to confirm the authenticity of the quote since Scalfari does not use notes.

If Pell actually knew for certain what the pope would do, it would also seem to put Pell’s knowledge above that of Cardinal Robert Sarah, who in what could be a warning to Pope Francis, declared last week in no uncertain terms that “Not even a pope can dispense from such a divine law” as the prohibition of public adulterers from Holy Communion.

STORY: Papal confidant signals Pope Francis will allow Communion for the ‘remarried’

Several members of the pope’s inner circle have said publicly that the controversial paragraphs 84-86 of the Synod final document have opened the door for the Holy Father to allow Communion in these cases if he so decides. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a close friend of Pope Francis and the editor of La Civita Catholica, a prominent Jesuit journal in Rome reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State, wrote this week that the internal forum solution for the divorced in adultery is a viable one:

The Ordinary Synod has thus laid the bases for access to the sacraments [for the divorced and civilly remarried], opening a door that had remained closed in the preceding Synod. It was not even possible, one year ago, to find a clear majority with reference to the debate on this topic, but that is what happened in 2015. We are therefore entitled to speak of a new step.

Spadaro’s predictions and interpretation of the Synod are consistent with the public statements of liberal prelates, some of whom are close confidantes to Pope Francis, including Cardinal Schönborn, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Nichols, and the head of the Jesuit order, Fr. Nicolás. Fr. Nicolás, in particular, first confirmed that there would be an apostolic exhortation of the pope, and said of Communion for those in public adultery:

The Pope’s recommendation is not to make theories, such as not lumping the divorced and remarried together, because priests have to make a judgment on a case by case and see the situation, the circumstances, what happens, and depending on this decision one thing or the other. There are no general theories which translate into an iron discipline required at all. The fruit of discernment means that you study each case and try to find merciful ways out.

Although in the best analysis, Pell’s prediction about what Pope Francis may do in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation remains just that-- a prediction—he is drawing a line in the sand that if the pope chooses to cross, would bring the barque of Peter into uncharted waters, where the danger of shipwreck is a very real threat.


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Lianne Laurence


Jennifer Lawrence just smeared traditional Christians in the worst way

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – It’s no surprise that yet another Hollywood star is mouthing the usual liberal platitudes, but the fact that this time around it’s Jennifer Lawrence, a mega-star and lead in blockbuster series Hunger Games, brings a particular sting of disappointment.

That’s because the 25-year-old, effervescent and immensely talented star often comes across not only as very likable, but also as someone capable of independent thought.

But apparently not.

Or at least not when it comes to Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk famously thrown in jail for refusing to obey a judge’s order that she sign marriage licenses for homosexual couples.

Davis, Lawrence tells Vogue in its November issue, is that “lady who makes me embarrassed to be from Kentucky.”

“Don’t even say her name in this house,” the actress told Vogue writer Jonathan van Meter in an interview that happened to take place the day after Davis was released from her five-day stint in jail.

Lawrence then went on a “rant” about “all those people holding their crucifixes, which may as well be pitchforks, thinking they’re fighting the good fight.”

RELATED STORY: Wrong, Jennifer Lawrence! Real men don’t need porn, and women don’t need to give it to them

She was brought up Republican, she told van Meter, “but I just can’t imagine supporting a party that doesn’t support women’s basic rights. It’s 2015 and gay people can get married and we think that we’ve come so far, so, yay! But have we? I don’t want to stay quiet about that stuff.”

After conjuring up images of Christians as bug-eyed hillbillies on a witchhunt with her reference to “crucifixes as pitchforks,” Lawrence added darkly: “I grew up in Kentucky. I know how they are.”

Perhaps one should infer that it’s lucky for Lawrence she escaped to Los Angeles and its enlightened culture. That hallowed place where, according to van Meter, Kris Jenner (former spouse of Bruce Jenner, who infamously declared himself a woman) brought Lawrence a cake for her birthday that was shaped like excrement and inscribed: “Happy birthday, you piece of sh*t!”

Lawrence is reportedly now Hollywood’s most highly paid actress. Not only is she the star of the hugely popular and lucrative Hunger Games franchise -- the last installment of which, Mockingjay, Part 2 opened November 20 -- but she won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook and starred in several others since her breakout role in the 2010 moving and moody indie film, Winter’s Bone.

Lawrence has every right to express her opinion, although no doubt it will be given more weight than it deserves. It is unfortunate, however, that she’s chosen to wield her fame, shall we say, as a pitchfork against Christian moral truths.



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