Michigan Officials Will Defend Discrimination With Showcase Of Gay Parenting Pseudoscience


Douglas Allen speaking at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) Conference in 2007.

Douglas Allen speaking at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) Conference in 2007.

The case challenging Michigan’s bans on same-sex marriage and adoption will go to trial in February, and state officials announced Friday that they are going to showcase four prominent “researchers” who claim that same-sex parenting harms children: Mark Regnerus, Douglas Allen, Loren Marks, and Joseph Price.

Here’s a look at the “research” these four have produced that will likely inform their testimony:

Mark Regnerus

Mark Regnerus is a sociologist at the University of Texas and a social conservative who frequently writes from a perspective of Christian sexual morality. Regnerus’ infamous “New Family Structures Study” claimed that children with same-sex parents had less positive negative outcomes compared to different-sex parents, but the study did not actually address same-sex parenting. Most of the subjects in the study grew up in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, long before marriage equality was available or adoption rights were codified in many states. Only two of the individuals in the sample were actually raised from birth by same-sex parents, whereas almost all of the rest were the product of “failed heterosexual unions” who happened to have had a parent who at some point had a “romantic relationship with someone of the same sex.”

An internal audit by the journal that published Regnerus’ study found his conclusions to be “bullshit,” and many academics, including the American Sociological Association, have condemned its results. Regnerus himself has admitted that the study doesn’t address same-sex parenting, but that hasn’t stopped him from using it to repeatedly speak out against marriage equality — as recently as this month in Hawaii — which he was coached to do by anti-gay groups.

The Bilerico Project’s John Becker has filed a lawsuit to reveal all of the details of how Regnerus’ study came to be published, and a judge recently ruled that the University of Central Florida must turn over the relevant public records, which so far it has refused to do. The documentation that has surfaced so far indicates that the study was manipulated specifically to impact the Supreme Court’s consideration of the Defense of Marriage Act. It has since been used the world over, most recently to defend legislation banning gay parenting in Russia, from which even Regnerus felt he had to distance himself.

Douglas Allen

Douglas Allen is an economist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Following Regnerus’ example, Allen has attempted on several occasions to similarly misrepresent data to suggest that same-sex couples make inferior parents. His primary focus has been his belief that the children of same-sex couples fare worse in school. In 2012, he revisited a 2010 study that had found that children of same-sex couples face no academic disadvantage, but applied Regnerus’ flawed parameter of children who were not biologically related to the head of household and who were not in the same home for at least five years — in other words, unstable homes. Under this new definition, he claimed that “children being raised by same-sex couples are 35 percent less likely to make normal progress through school,” blaming the problem entirely on same-sex parenting and not the unstable family structures that clearly impacted the result.

More recently, Allen has attempted a similar trick using data from Canada’s 2006 census, concluding,”Children living with gay and lesbian families in 2006 were about 65 percent as likely to graduate [high school] compared to children living in opposite sex marriage families.” Allen’s analysis has many problems, including the fact that he doesn’t account for 17-to-22-year-olds who have not graduated high school because they still might be in it. Canada only began recognizing marriage equality a year earlier in 2005, and had only offered any kind of governmental benefits to same-sex couples since 1997. Thus, any child raised by a same-sex couple since then would be — at most — 16 years old. As a result, Allen can not prove whether the children he did study were actually raised from birth by their current parents or whether, as in the other flawed studies, they had experienced broken homes. Though he controls for whether or not the children have moved in the past five years, he does not account for whether the parents they live with now moved with them. The actual stories of these children are lost, and it’s unclear whether any conclusions can actually be drawn about children who’ve been raised by same-sex couples since birth.

Joseph Price

Like Allen, Joseph Price is also an economics professor, but at Brigham Young University. Price worked with Allen on the 2012 Regnerus-style reinterpretation of data, and signed onto an amicus brief with both Allen and Regnerus urging the Supreme Court to uphold California’s Proposition 8. The only relevant research Price seems to have conducted of his own accord looked at the number of children being raised by gay or lesbian parents, not any implications for those children.

Loren Marks

Loren Marks is faculty member in the Louisiana State University School of Social Work whose research focuses primarily on the role of faith in families. Alongside Regnerus’ study, he published a critique of all past studies on same-sex parenting and criticized the American Psychological Association for relying on them, claiming that they were invalid because they were based on “small non-representative convenience samples of fewer than 100 participants.” The two were clearly written in conjunction, because Marks cited Regnerus’ paper in his own. He also made his paper available to the House Republicans defending the Defense of Marriage Act, long before it was officially published. The academic journal’s internal audit that rebuked Regnerus’ study similarly criticized Marks’ paper as a “lowbrow meta-analysis of studies” that didn’t deserve to be published.

Allen and Regnerus consistently rely on Marks’ critique of the APA to defend the validity of the large samples they use in their “population-based studies.” This is misleading, though, because their studies have ultimately resulted in smaller samples when actually counting children raised from birth by same-sex couples. Regnerus only had two, and Allen specifically added children from unstable homes to get his negative results. A new study from Australia looks at 500 children being raised by same-sex couples — with positive results — and Regnerus still tried to critique it for using a convenience (non-random) sample, one in which LGBT groups help recruit participants, who in turn help recruit additional participants. All three have argued that if families participate in a study they learn about through a local LGBT organization, they’ll automatically be biased to produce positive results. Even so, their “large” samples come up short when it comes to actual stable same-sex households, so convenience samples of 30, 100, or 500 are still more generalizable to same-sex families than the conclusions that can be drawn from their data.

Marks was also called to testify in favor of Proposition 8 back in 2010, but the team defending the anti-gay amendment ended up not using his testimony in the actual trial because he hadn’t actually read the studies he used to argue against same-sex parenting. He was trying to claim that children did best with their “biological” parents, but the studies he’d used actually included adoptive parents too. He admitted during deposition that he had considered no research that actually evaluated gay and lesbian parents, and that his bias against same-sex families predated any of his scholarly research.

The Pseudoscience Showcase

Regnerus, Allen, Price, and Marks have several things in common. They all oppose marriage equality, and that bias seems to inform their research — as opposed to their research informing their opinions. They all disregard the consensus of social scientists on same-sex parenting and the decades of research that inform that consensus. And all of them — with the apparent exception of Price, who has been a less public figure in the marriage equality fight — have worked directly with anti-gay groups to promote their research. The conservative Witherspoon Institute funded Regenerus’ study; Marks made sure the defenders of Prop 8 had his research to work with; and Allen sits on the board of the Ruth Institute, which until this month was a subsidiary of the National Organization for Marriage.

The Michigan case is about both adoption and marriage, but Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) seem to be focusing specifically on adoption — at least according to the “experts” they have invited to testify. In their court briefs, they have already argued that same-sex families are not deprived of any rights, though it’s still “optimal” to deny them legal recognition, in particular to help “regulate sexual relationships” among heterosexuals. The lesbian couple who filed the suit, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, are already raising three children together.

(HT: Kathleen Perrin.)