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Social Scientists Defend Mark Regnerus' Controversial Study on Same-Sex Parenting

Michael Emerson, Christian Smith, and others defend sociologist accused of being "anti-gay," breathtakingly sloppy," and getting "everything wrong."

An influential group of social scientists – including many who have appeared in CT's pages – have issued a public statement defending Mark Regnerus's controversial study on same-sex parenting.

Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, published a paper in the July issue of Social Science Research that examined "how different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships?" His findings, based on his New Family Structures Study, indicated that young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex relationships are more likely to experience emotional and social problems.

His Slate article published in June drew more than 450 comments and set off a chorus of criticism.

In response, a group of 18 professors – including Michael Emerson, Christian Smith, Rodney Stark, W. Bradford Wilcox, and Bradley Wrightposted a defense on the website of Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion. They argue that rather then Regnerus' study being "anti-gay," "breathtakingly sloppy," and "gets everything wrong" (as many media outlets have alleged), such public criticism is unwarranted for three reasons:

1) Media outlets have not properly critiqued the "small, nonrepresentative samples" used by previous studies that showed equal or more positive outcomes for children of same-sex parents vs. heterosexual parents. "By contrast, Regnerus relies on a large, random, and representative sample of more than 200 children raised by parents who have had same-sex relationships, comparing them to a random sample of more than 2,000 children raised in heterosexual families, to reach his conclusions," they wrote.

2) Those critical of Regnerus surveying children from same-sex relationships with high levels of instability "fail to appreciate ... that Regnerus chose his categories on the basis of young adults' characterizations of their own families growing up, and the young adults whose parents had same-sex romantic relationships also happened to have high levels of instability in their families of origin."

3) Another new study (published this month in the Journal of Marriage and Family) – also based on a large, nationally representative, and random survey – comes to conclusions that parallel those of Regnerus's study.

"We do not think that these new studies settle the nation's ongoing debate about gay parenting, same-sex marriage, and the welfare of children. In fact, research on same-sex parenting based on nationally representative samples is still in its infancy," reads the statement. "But we think that the Regnerus study, which is one of the first to rely on a large, random, and representative sample of children from parents who have experienced same-sex relationships, has helped to inform the ongoing scholarly and public conversation about same-sex families in America.

"As social scientists, our hope is that more such studies will be forthcoming shortly," the statement continues, "and that future journalistic coverage of such studies, and this contentious topic, will be more civil, thorough, and thoughtful than has been the coverage of the new study by Professor Mark Regnerus."

Regnerus has responded to the criticism here and here.

CT recently interviewed Regnerus on Sex Economics 101 – his research into the sexual attitudes and behavior of young adults – and published a cover story on his provocative argument for early marriage. He also participated in a Village Green panel on how best to encourage premarital abstinence.

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