A new paper called the New Family Structures Study claims that the children of gays and lesbians fare worse than those raised by heterosexual couples, but nothing in the methodology supports those claims whatsoever. Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin has already written hefty debunks, but because the study is now getting mainstream media attention, here are some important highlights:
- Everybody who said that one of their parents had had a “romantic relationship with someone of the same sex” before they were 18 counted in the sample of children of gays and lesbians.
- The study did not ask if those participants were actually raised by same-sex parents — most of them were actually the product of a “failed heterosexual union” or parents who were not even married to begin with.
- The author of the paper is Mark Regnerus, a social conservative who writes from an evangelical perspective.
- The study was funded by the Witherspoon Institute and Bradley Foundation, two conservative groups tied to anti-gay organizations like the National Organization for Marriage.
- The participants were age 18–39, which means a majority of the sample grew up in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, when same-sex relationships were more heavily stigmatized and not recognized in any state.
- The study was not longitudinal, relying only on the memories of participants and not actually evaluating their development over time.
Needless to say, the paper has nothing to say about same-sex couples who intentionally seek to adopt children as coherent units. The methodology is flawed and the results cannot be compared in any way to the 30 years of credible studies showing that when all other circumstances are similar, children of same-sex couples fare just as well as those raised by opposite-sex parents. Families like that of Zach Wahls and his two moms were simply not represented in this study.
Unfortunately, several prominent news outlets have chosen to elevate this study as worthy of discussion and dissection. Slate magazine even invited Regnerus to write his own column about the study, and Slate’s Will Saletan humored the paper’s results without critiquing its obvious flaws. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat chimed in that same-sex marriage is a “social experiment,” but managed to identify the one reasonable point Saletan made, which is that “we need fewer broken homes among gays, just as we do among straights.” Such a statement is a convincing argument in favor of marriage equality, but it has little to do with the anti-gay claims Regnerus and anti-gay conservatives have been making from the paper.
ABC News also ran a story about the study by free-lance contributor Carrie Gann. Though Gann highlighted the study’s obvious problems and biases, ABC initially ran the problematic headline, “Study: Kids of Parents in Same-sex Relationships Fare Worse As Adults.” After an inquiry from ThinkProgress, ABC amended the headline to the slightly more accurate “Study of Gay Parenting Draws Criticism,” but the editorial staff declined to comment on the change.
In Internet-age news cycles, journalists do not only report news, they shape public discussion. Choosing to even acknowledge this deeply-flawed “study” carries the risk of legitimizing its harmful claims, but humoring it outright without context is simply irresponsible.
Rob Tsinai produced this simple graphic to show the problem with studies like Regnerus’ and the many “fatherless” studies conservatives often reference:
Zach Wahls spoke out against the study, pointing out to Eliot Spitzer that Regnerus admitted he found no causal link between his data and same-sex parenting. Watch his interview: