I suppose the Chick-Fil-A controversy has displaced sociologist Mark Regnerus’s controversial study as the battlefront of the gay marriage wars over the last few weeks, but the Regnerus study is worth revisiting here. His study, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” was released in June and provoked a heated reaction among bloggers and academics alike.
It was hard to find coverage that was neither hostile (Regnerus is a fraud! The study is worthless!) nor celebratory (Gay marriage is doomed! This proves what we’ve been saying all along!), and most groups refused to admit both the study’s strengths and its limitations. Avoiding these extremes and providing the best analysis we’ve seen of the study is The Weekly Standard‘s Andrew Ferguson, whose recent article explores the background, the findings, and the reaction in some depth. An excerpt:
The criticisms of Regnerus’s paper would be more impressive if they weren’t anticipated and in many cases acknowledged by the author in the same paper being criticized. Regnerus notes explicitly that the study did not identify the sexual orientation of the parents being reported on, and that some of the “gay parents” had little or no contact with their children. He admits that the categories into which he divided respondents were hardly exhaustive: “There are far more ways to delineate family structure and experiences—and changes therein—than I have undertaken here.”
He also addresses the charge of an apples-to-oranges comparison. Measuring children from divorced GFs and LMs against children from intact families, he concedes, is “arguably unfair.” . . . And he never speculated on causation—nowhere does he suggest that homosexual parenting or orientation was responsible for the lower outcomes of the children of GFs and LMs.
Whatever its faults, Regnerus’s study has unique strengths, even beyond the size and randomness of its sample, that his critics ignore altogether. His commendable attempt to include a diversity of views among his advisers is rare within the guild, where the leftism is unrelieved. So too were his willingness to immediately publish his research materials online and his pledge to make all his data digitally available this fall. Rather than a study of monochromatic and well-to-do lesbians or gay men, he managed to capture the full ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic range of gay America. And his study is one of the first to systematically measure outcomes from the children themselves, rather than simply through the reports of their parents.
And in case you’re not one of our subscribers (yet), Dr. Stanton Jones of Wheaton College wrote about the field of same-sex science in First Things earlier this year. His conclusions, in brief:
Contrary to the assumptions of many social conservatives, biology does appear to play a modest part in determining sexual orientation. Contrary to the assumptions of many social progressives, psychological and environmental variables also appear to play at least a modest part in determining sexual orientation. In contrast to the hubris of those prone to making emphatic pronouncements, what we do not yet know about the causation of sexual orientation dwarfs the bit that we are beginning to know. And the fact that causation is indubitably a complex and mysterious by-product of the interaction of biological and psychological variables confounds the assertion that sexual orientation is just like skin color, determined at birth or even conception. And contrary to the suggestions of some, the involvement of some biological influence does not prove that change in sexual orientation is impossible.