The Regnerus Affair
The Regnerus Affair
If you want to know how University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus's summer has gone, look no further than The Weekly Standard. On the cover of the conservative magazine's July 30 issue are two hooded henchmen impishly turning the gears on a medieval torture wheel holding Regnerus, sweating beads as he tries to stay in one piece. The cover copy—"Revenge of the Sociologists: The perils of politically incorrect academic research"—hints at the situation sparked by the publication of Regnerus's newest research as well as the broader political discourse over same-sex marriage.
The survey, known as the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), is remarkable in its scope. It's a random national sample, considered "the gold standard" of social science surveys. NFSS measures the economic, relational, political, and psychological effects on adults ages 18 to 39 who grew up in families where the father or mother engaged in homosexual behavior. Despite Regnerus's repeated caution that the NFSS does not account for stable same-sex marriages (since same-sex marriage as such didn't exist when the survey participants were children), he has undergone professional censure. Social Science Research conducted an internal audit on the peer-review process of the NFSS, and the University of Texas at Austin investigated Regnerus following allegations of "scientific misconduct." (The school has since cleared Regnerus of the allegations.)
Regnerus agreed to an e-mail interview with Christianity Today associate editor Katelyn Beaty to set the record straight on the NFSS and its many discontents.
Other studies have been done on the well-being of children raised by same-sex couples, with many sociologists concluding there's no real difference between children raised by same-sex couples and those raised by heterosexual couples. Why was the NFSS needed at this time?
Most family scholars had, until recently, consistently affirmed the elevated stability and advantages [for children] of the married, heterosexual, biological, two-parent household, when contrasted with all other family "makes and models." Other types of family arrangements were perceived to fall short—even if not far short—in a variety of developmental domains such as educational achievement, behavior problems, and emotional well-being.
For the children of gay and lesbian Americans, however, social scientists have largely shifted their sentiment. Since 2001, and picking up steam more recently, scholars have been increasingly quick to declare "no differences," and some have even moved to suggest that same-sex parents may be more competent than a man and woman in a traditional family arrangement. Ten years is pretty speedy to overthrow a long-stable paradigm, and frankly, some of us found it a bit suspicious, so we decided to look into it ourselves.
I don't think there is a time-sensitive component to this study, other than it was time to evaluate what had become a rapidly-shifting consensus on the subject.
How does your methodology compare with those used in previous surveys on this topic?
This is the key area of distinction between my study and most others. Almost all studies that came before this one were small and "nonrandom." That is, we have no idea how similar most other studies' research participants are to the general population they seek to study. And with many previous studies, I think it's fair to be skeptical. For example, if you know you're participating in a small study on gay parenting and that it'll make the news and perhaps have political ramifications, I think it's fair for scholars to wonder whether such a study will yield valid, reliable data.