The Vindication of Mark Regnerus II

Public Discourse 31 Oct 2012
Mark Regnerus’s response to his critics shows more clearly that instability is characteristic of same-sex relationships and that stable same-sex parented households are virtually non-existent. Second of a two-part series.

….In the November 2012 issue of Social Science Research, Regnerus has published a new article: “Parental same-sex relationships, family instability, and subsequent life outcomes for adult children: Answering critics of the new family structures study with additional analyses.” He accepts “arguably the most reasonable criticism” of his original work, the use of the abbreviations “LM” (for lesbian mother) and “GF” (for gay father) to characterize the family situations experienced by his young adult subjects when they were children.

Since the adjectives “lesbian” and “gay” could lead readers to infer something about these parents’ self-identified “orientation” (though in his original article Regnerus clearly dispelled this misapprehension), he now exchanges “LM” for “MLR” (mother who had a lesbian relationship) and “GF” for “FGR” (father who had a gay relationship), so that the adjectives “lesbian” and “gay” now describe the relationships, not the persons. Regnerus also pauses to note the extreme unlikelihood that his categories swept in any “one-night stand” relationships, since the NFSS interviews asked young adults about romantic relationships they would have observed as children.

Regnerus addresses at much greater length the more serious charge that he compared apples to oranges by placing a sample of “MLR” and “FGR” families with high incidence of instability next to his “IBF” cases of intact biological families (married heterosexual couples that stay together and raise their own offspring to maturity). His critics insisted that he should compare intact, long-term stable gay and lesbian couples with his “gold standard” IBF households.

On this point, Regnerus yields no ground to his critics whatsoever, but instead only strengthens his case that family instability is not a variable to be controlled for so that it falls out of the comparison; rather it is a “pathway” down which MLR and FGR families typically travel as a social reality.

…How many children were raised by two women staying together from the child’s first birthday to his or her eighteenth? Just two. And how many such cases were there in the FGR category—of children raised by two men together for their whole childhood? Zero. This, out of an initial population of 15,000. I recite these numbers to make a point of my own that fairly leaps off the pages of Regnerus’s work: that family instability is the characteristic experience of those whose parents have same-sex relationships.

…The controversy over same-sex marriage, and over the place of social science findings in debating the question, will doubtless continue. But Regnerus’s contribution has complicated a set of breezy assumptions too widely held: that children raised in these new family structures suffer no disadvantages whatsoever, and that stable, long-term same-sex-parent families can even be found in significant numbers. In so doing, Regnerus has moved our national conversation on the family forward, in a positive direction, with greater awareness of what is at stake in the public policy choices we make.

Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Radford University.