Regnerus Gets His Talking Points

My former colleague at the American Independent News Network, Sofia Resnick, has been doing a lot of digging into that now-infamous parenting study by Mark Regnerus that is now being cited widely by the religious right against same-sex marriage. And she’s been finding some very interesting things. A month ago she reported that the study was rushed into publication to make sure it was out in time for the marriage equality cases before the Supreme Court. And last week she revealed that the Witherspoon Institute, the right wing think tank that funded the study, had prepared talking points for Regnerus to help him appear reasonable in the media.

“You are a researcher, not an advocate. You are simply reporting on what the data tells us.”

This is the first in a long list of media-training guidelines drafted for sociologist Mark Regnerus in preparation for last year’s release of his findings of the infamous “New Family Structures Study,” a flawed, politically motivated study that suggests that children of gay parents experience more unfavorable outcomes compared to children of heterosexual, married parents.

The guidelines instructed the University of Texas at Austin associate sociology professor to focus on the science of his study and to emphasize his apolitical views. Regnerus echoed many of these talking points when his study was first released, taking pains to maintain a neutral front on the gay-marriage debate. He stated in his papers and in interviews that the study was not about gay marriage or even about gay parenting. Regnerus continues to try to appear neutral on these issues in media interviews, recently telling The New York Times’ Bill Keller that, concerning gay marriage, his study “paints the reality of people’s lives as fairly complicated.”

But Regnerus’ more recent actions indicate many of his talking points were simply that: talking points.

Since those early days, Regnerus has signed on to a “friend of the court” brief in both gay-marriage cases recently taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the court to uphold California’s ban on same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. He has blogged about his skepticism regarding the health of kids raised by gay parents, and he’s signed on to speak at a National Organization for Marriage-affiliated conference dedicated to arming college-age kids with research that opposes gay marriage.

None of this would necessarily be a problem if the study wasn’t so blatantly flawed in its methodology, comparing people from broken homes where a parent was gay (or had at any time had a gay relationship of any kind, even if the child did not live with them at the time) to those from intact, stable homes with both parents. This is the kind of thing that would earn you a failing grade if you proposed such a study in a sociology class, but this is a tenured professor doing the same thing and then using that flawed research to justify discrimination.

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  • Even if this studies conclusion were correct, it would not justify the discrimination that these groups are promoting. Just like a theoretical study that found that interracial marriages caused worse outcomes for kids would not justify legalizing discrimination. I’m assuming these assholes know this, but their hatred of the gays is causing them to do irrational things.

  • Why didn’t the fundies just stick their hands way up his ass and use him as a sockpuppet?

  • baal

    Why am I not surprised that he is even more of a tool than we knew previously?

  • anubisprime

    Douchebag is a douchebag, colour me shocked!

    But what I find is even more of shocking is the fact that apparently the Supreme Court justices are so ignorant and presumably dumb that they do not realize that they are being conned, or in fact do realize they are being conned but seeing as it lines up neatly with their pre-conceived bigotries and intolerances will use the nonsense as evidenced justification for their deliberations and eventual decision, if they presumably have not already decided to kick this ruling into the long grass anyway!

    That is the real tragedy here, they are using extremely biassed and misguided literature specifically designed to fool those that are ignorant and SCOTUS are being played blatantly!

    That is not just a mistake, that is a direct dereliction of their duty, they are about to bring utter shame on themselves and the office they hold.

    And I presume that no one can inform them of the scam they are being embroiled in?

  • iknklast

    All parenting studies do the same thing: compare a stable, happy family with one that has been divorced. I came from a family where the parents stayed together, but it was neither stable nor happy. I do not find individuals such as myself represented in these studies as a rule. To truly compare the effect of divorce, one should compare children who come from divorce, and those who come from families that stayed together in spite of being miserable and dysfunctional, often because there were children. Those statistics might mean something. Otherwise, we’re getting the news that children that come from happy families tend to be happier, and children that come from dysfunctional families are more likely to be dysfunctional. Wow. I’m underwhelmed.

    Not to mention, one parent families don’t have to be miserable messes. Do the studies ever look at amicable divorces, where the parents maintain good relationships with the child, the child isn’t caught in the middle, and everyone is sort of OK with things? That might be telling, also. I once had an office mate that said her parents divorce saved her relationship with both of them. How often does that happen?

    When they are looking at apples and apples (or maybe apple juice would be appropriate for an apple that has been crushed), then I’ll take them seriously.

  • psweet

    Even then, iknklast, you’d have some problems — since we can’t randomly determine who stays together and who divorces, there could still be an effect that we’re not able to correct for. Not to say that it wouldn’t be worthwhile, just that it’s important to recognize the limitations.

  • marcus

    If you want to let Regnerus what kind of “sociologist” you really think he is you can reach him here regnerus(at) I am preparing a email myself.

  • Aliasalpha

    Seems like calling his stuff flawed is a bit generous, blatantly dishonest seems like a more accurate description

  • John Horstman

    This study is so terrible that it makes me wish it was *only* overgeneralizing the results or misrepresenting correlation as causation. The way it was set up, the only possible conclusion is that it’s intentionally dishonest (as PZ notes, it would earn an undergrad sociology student a failing grade); isn’t that a fireable offense at most universities?

  • John Horstman

    Damn my blog-hopping; not PZ, Ed.