Sound public policy requires knowledge of the facts. But recent events show that disagreements about the evidence on hot button issues are often resolved in state capitols, not the ivory tower.
In the debate over same-sex marriage and parenting, one of the key empirical questions is whether same-sex relationships harm children. The July issue of Social Science Research published a study by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus that found that adult children of parents who had same-sex relationships reported more emotional problems than did those who were raised by parents in heterosexual marriages.
Political activists on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate jumped on the article. Opponents of same-sex marriage cited the research as evidence of the problems of same-sex parenthood. Social conservatives jumped on the results as scientific confirmation of their beliefs and intuition.
Proponents of gay rights and same-sex marriage, however, said the study was bogus. Writers in The New Yorker,The New Republic, and other news outlets faulted everything from the research's sponsorship to the minutiae of the study's methodology to resulting policy implications. Over 200 academics signed a letter to the editors of Social Science Research. Some even questioned Regnerus's academic integrity. Some, however, saw the research as evidence in favor of same-sex marriages because they would provide a stability to children that was unavailable to the adult children interviewed in Regnerus's study.
While most articles in sociology are read by few outside academia (in fact, most are lucky to be read by more than a handful of other scholars), this study struck a political chord. This week's cover of ...1