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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Pope Francis attacks ‘fundamentalist’ Catholics, dismisses condom ban as unimportant

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By John-Henry Westen

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, November 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- On the plane returning from his journey to Africa today Pope Francis made his clearest remarks in condemnation of ‘fundamentalist’ Catholics.

"Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions," Francis said, as reported by the National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent, Joshua McElwee, and similarly by other journalists on the plane.  "We Catholics have some -- and not some, many -- who believe in the absolute truth and go ahead dirtying the other with calumny, with disinformation, and doing evil."

"They do evil," said the pope. "I say this because it is my church."

"We have to combat it," he said. "Religious fundamentalism is not religious, because it lacks God. It is idolatry, like the idolatry of money."

Turning to Islam, the pope spoke of his friendship with a Muslim, adding, “You cannot cancel out a religion because there are some groups, or many groups in a certain point of history, of fundamentalists.”

"Like everything, there are religious people with values and those without," he said. "But how many wars … have Christians made? The sacking of Rome was not done by Muslims, eh?"

STORY: Vatican’s liturgy chief contradicts Pope Francis on Communion for non-Catholics

On the same flight a journalist asked about the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS and if it was time for the Church to change its position.

The pope acknowledged that condoms are one method of prevention, saying that the Church was faced with a perplexity of whether to follow the fifth commandment (Thou shalt not kill) “or that sexual relations are open to life.” 

He dismissed this however as ‘not the problem’ and said it reminded him of the question asked Jesus, “Tell me, teacher, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Is it obligatory to heal?’

Catholic News Agency carries the fullest rendition of the pope’s quotes on the matter, relating his words thus:

“Let’s not talk about if one can use this type of patch or that for a small wound, the serious wound is social injustice, environmental injustice,” Pope Francis continued. “I don’t like to go down to reflections on such case studies when people die due to a lack of water, hunger, environment...when all are cured, when there aren’t these illnesses, tragedies, that man makes, whether for social injustice or to earn more money – I think of the trafficking of arms – when these problems are no longer there, I think we can ask the question ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’”

 “Because, if the trafficking of arms continues, wars are the biggest cause of mortality...I would say not to think about whether it’s lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, I would say to humanity: ‘make justice,’ and when all are cured, when there is no more injustice, we can talk about the Sabbath.”

While in Africa the pope used very strong language to promote the climate change agreement at the Paris climate summit that started today. He said it would be a “catastrophe” if it did not achieve acceptance in Paris in the coming days and added that the decision came down to the choice “either to improve or to destroy the environment.”

Speaking at the United Nations center in Nairobi on November 26, Pope Francis said, “In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues. It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects.”


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Ben Carson on Colorado shooting: pro-lifers need to ‘tone down’ ‘hateful rhetoric’

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By Ben Johnson

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, November 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - After a string of verbal gaffes and controversies over the depth of his pro-life convictions, Dr. Ben Carson has implied that the pro-life movement needs to "tone down" its "hateful rhetoric" and "become more mature."

The doctor was asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" about abortion supporters' claims that pro-life speech led to Robert Lewis Dear's shooting inside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

"There is no question that hateful rhetoric, no matter which side it comes from, Right or Left, is something that is detrimental to our society," Dr. Carson said. "This has been a big problem."

"No question the hateful rhetoric exacerbates the situation," Carson affirmed.

Lamenting that social discourse had become less civil, he said modern political "rhetoric is extremely immature, divisive, and is not helpful."

“I think both sides should tone down their rhetoric and engage in civil discussion," Dr. Carson said.

Pro-life leaders were quick to rebut his charges that they engage in extreme or immature rhetoric. (See related story.)

After briefly leading rival Donald Trump in a series of national polls, Carson's presidential hopes have crumpled amidst a series of misstatements and retractions that have led national commentators to question whether the political novice is ready to be president of the United States. Last Sunday, talk show host Rush Limbaugh told Fox News that Ben Carson is "probably not" fully "equipped to be president."

The statement apparently condemning pro-life rhetoric comes after Carson, a famed neurosurgeon, told a Florida reporter that attempts to save the life of Terri Schiavo were "much ado about nothing."

Dr. Carson told LifeSiteNews exclusively that his remarks had been taken out of context by a Tampa Bay Times reporter. The reporter later posted the full transcript of his question, and Dr. Carson's answer to provide context.

Full transcript of the "Face the Nation" segment:

Dickerson: OK. I would like to ask you about a domestic political event or what some people see has a political element to it, and that's the shooting at a Planned Parenthood location in Colorado Springs.

Some abortion rights supporters have said that the rhetoric has led to that kind of violence. What's your view on that?

Carson: There is no question that hateful rhetoric, no matter which side it comes from, Right or Left, is something that is detrimental to our society.

This has been a big problem. Our strength in this country has traditionally been in our unity. And we are allowing all kinds of circumstances to divide us and make us hateful toward each other. And the rhetoric is extremely immature, divisive, and is not helpful.

When you have outside forces, global Islamic radical jihadists who want to destroy us, why would we be doing that to ourselves? We, at some point, have got to become more mature. No question the hateful rhetoric exacerbates the situation, and we should be doing all we can to engage an intelligence, civil discussion about our differences.

That's how we solve problems. We don't ever solve them with hateful rhetoric.

Dickerson: Should abortion rights -- excuse me -- should those who oppose abortion rights tone down their rhetoric?

Carson: I think both sides should tone down their rhetoric and engage in civil discussion.

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Robert Lewis Dear
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Everything we know about the Planned Parenthood shooter

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By John Jalsevac
Robert Dear's shanty in North Carolina where he spent part of his time.

November 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Planned Parenthood, and supporters of abortion rights, have pointed to Friday's shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility as evidence that the pro-life movement is responsible for encouraging violence through its "hateful rhetoric." Planned Parenthood of Rocky Mountains has declared that the shooter himself "was motivated by opposition to Planned Parenthood and access to abortion," although police have not officially released any information about his motives.

Meanwhile, the picture emerging of the man who allegedly opened fire at a Planned Parenthood facility Friday is one of a deeply disturbed recluse who, though opposed to abortion, had little interest in and no known history of active involvement in the abortion debate, with a long spate of run-ins with the law and a pattern of bizarre behavior that left some of those who encountered him fearful for their safety, and many convinced that he wasn't in his right mind.

On Saturday morning Colorado Springs police identified Robert Lewis Dear, 57, of North Carolina, as the suspect in the shooting that left three dead, and another nine injured. Dear allegedly began shooting outside the Planned Parenthood facility just before noon, Mountain Time, Friday, before retreating into the facility for a five hour stand-off with police.

Planned Parenthood has confirmed that none of its staff were injured in the shooting. Both of the civilians killed were reportedly accompanying friends to appointments.

The New York Daily News reports that an online dating profile that appears to have been posted by Dear in the early 2000s has Dear asking for "discreet" sadomasochistic sex, as well as pot-smoking companions. Other posts on by someone with a username associated with Dear, include what the Daily News describes as "paranoid Biblical rants." reports that Dear was arrested and charged in 2002 on "animal cruelty," eavesdropping and "peeping tom" charges. He was acquitted of the animal cruelty charges after a bench trial, while the latter charges were dismissed.

The animal cruelty charge was apparently related to an incident in which Dear allegedly shot a neighbor's dog in the leg with a pellet gun.

USA Today reports that a 2004 police report shows Dear threatened to "do bodily harm" to a neighbor.

He also has numerous previous convictions for various traffic violations. These include seat belt violations, driver’s license violations, operating a vehicle in an unsafe mechanical condition and driving a non-registered vehicle.

ABC reports that Dear spent some of his time living in a cabin in the woods in North Carolina, without running water or electricity. Neighbors say he was a quiet man who seemed "off." They said that when he did speak, he tended to ramble on a disconnected series of topics.

One neighbor, James Russell, said that two topics they never heard Dear speak about were religion and abortion. Russell also said that Dear tended to avoid eye contact. "Nothing with him was very cognitive," said Russell about Dear.

RELATED: Police officer killed at Planned Parenthood was pro-life, Christian pastor

James Howie, who lived close to one of Dear's remote properties in North Carolina, told USA Today that Dear once asked him to do some foundation work on his shack. After accompanying Dear to the job site, Howie declined the job. "I was just glad to get home," he said about the experience, adding that in his view Dear seemed crazy, although not dangerous.

Another neighbor told the Washington Post that Dear "was the kind of person you had to watch out for. He was a very weird individual. It's hard to explain, but he had a weird look in his eye most of the time."

Another neighbor told the Post, "He complained about everything. He said he worked with the government, and everybody was out to get him, and he knew the secrets of the USA. He said, 'Nobody touch me, because I've got enough information to put the whole U.S. of A in danger.' It was very crazy."

Another neighbor said that she and her family "kept out of his way." "He wouldn't really speak to anybody, he wouldn't wave," Mallory Nicoletti, 29, told the Citizen-Times.

John Hood, another neighbor, told NBCNews that Dear rarely spoke with him, but when he did, it was to offer bizarre advice. On one occasion, said Hood, Dear urged him to get a metal roof installed on his house, so the US government couldn't spy on him. Hood also said he erected a fence between their properties, because Dear had a habit of skinny dipping. 

RELATED: This one shot from the latest PP sting video might be the most disturbing thing you see all year

Those living in the North Carolina community where Dear had his shack said they were frustrated by the fact that Dear would leave for days at a time, leaving behind two dogs with no food or water, who would start to get aggressive.

“We’re not isolationists,” one resident said. “You know how whenever someone goes crazy, the neighbors say he was so quiet and normal. That wasn’t the case here. He was weird. Everyone kept an eye on him.”

"He was really tightly wound," said another resident. "You could see that from the stress on his face, from the way he acted.”

Still another went even further, telling the Post, "He was just always saying, ‘I know the U.S. is trying to kill everybody’ and do this and do that. He [said he] was an undercover [agent]. Just craziness. Just pure, right-out craziness all the time.

“I’m kind of glad he’s put away now."

The Gateway Pundit also reports that, bizarrely, Dear was registered to vote as a woman, although it is unclear whether this is simply a clerical error or has any deeper significance. His party was listed as "unaffiliated."

One anonymous source, reportedly with the police, told the Washington Post that in a confusing rant following his arrest Dear did make mention of "baby body parts," suggesting some connection with the recent series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood staffers harvesting and selling the body parts of aborted babies.

However, the source added that this was but one topic among many mentioned by Dear in a speech that left investigators unclear as to his specific motivation.

Planned Parenthood has issued a statement saying that based upon eyewitnesses they believe Dear "was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion." 

Dear's ex-wife, Pamela Ross, told the New York Times he was a Bible-believing Christian, and that he opposed abortion, but that it "was never really a topic of conversation" in their house.

RELATED: Planned Parenthood shooting suspect surrenders, is in custody: police

Ross and Dear divorced in 2000. The picture that Ross paints of her ex-husband as a physically healthy man who lifted weights, took good care of himself, enjoyed listening to U2 and riding motorcycles, clashes markedly with the accounts of those who lived near him in the years since their parting. 

Ross said she was shocked at the man she saw on TV following his arrest this weekend.

“Something must have happened to him when he moved away, that’s all I know," she said. “Me and our whole family are extremely devastated and heartbroken by the victims of these families, and we have no words that can ever comfort them other than to say we’re sorry for what he did.”

However, Ross admits that she did call police on Dear in 1997, after a case of domestic violence. She didn't press charges at the time.

Dear reportedly brought several "items" with him into the Planned Parenthood facility, which police had said they were concerned could be explosives. Early Saturday morning police tweeted that those items have been "secured" and are "no longer a threat."

Subsequent reports have suggested those items were propane tanks that Dear may have been trying to shoot in order to cause an explosion.

After a five-hour standoff with police, during which Dear repeatedly exchanged gunfire with them, police were able to establish voice contact with the suspect by shouting. At that point they were able to convince him to surrender.

While some reports have indicated that the shooting actually began outside a nearby Chase Bank, and may have been related to a robbery, Springfield police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley said at a press conference Friday evening that the shooting appears to have begun at the Planned Parenthood. 

While Dear's motive is still unknown, pro-life groups have issued statements condemning the violence, and urging caution in jumping to conclusions.

"Information is very sketchy about the currently active shooting situation in Colorado Springs," said Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. "The Planned Parenthood was the address given in the initial call to the police, but we still do not know what connection, if any, the shooting has to do with Planned Parenthood or abortion."

"As leaders in the pro-life movement, we call for calm and pray for a peaceful resolution of this situation."

Troy Newman of Operation Rescue and Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, also issued statements.

"Operation Rescue unequivocally deplores and denounces all violence at abortion clinics and has a long history of working through peaceful channels to advocate on behalf of women and their babies," said Newman. "We express deep concern for everyone involved and are praying for the safety of those at the Planned Parenthood office and for law enforcement personnel. We pray this tragic situation can be quickly resolved without further injury to anyone."

"Although we don't know the reasons for the shooting near the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs today, the pro-life movement is praying for the safety of all involved and as a movement we have always unequivocally condemned all forms of violence at abortion clinics. We must continually as a nation stand against violence on all levels," said Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, based in Washington, D.C.


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