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Report: Controversial gay parenting study was timed to influence Supreme Court

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By Jacob Combs

UT Austin
University of Texas at Austin Professor Mark Regnerus

A recent academic study that purportedly examined the effects of gay parents on children but which has been characterized as flawed by many experts was timed in order to influence “major decisions of the Supreme Court,” according to documents obtained by The American Independent and published in conjunction with The Huffington Post this weekend.

The recently-obtained documents demonstrate how the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank that opposes marriage equality, enlisted University of Texas at Austin sociology professor Mark Regnerus to author a study the institute hoped would show gays and lesbians are less fit to be parents than opposite-sex couples in order to sway anticipated Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality.  From the American Independent:

“In a study slammed for its methodology, funding, and academic integrity, University of Texas associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus found that children who grew up in households where one parent had a same-sex relationship (regardless of whether the children lived with that parent or that parent’s supposed same-sex partner) were more likely to experience negative social, psychological, and economic outcomes than children raised by a married heterosexual couple.

“Records show that an academic consultant hired by UT to conduct data analysis for the project was a longtime fellow of the Witherspoon Institute, which shelled out about $700,000 for the research. Documentation about University of Virginia associate sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox’s dual roles contradict Regnerus’ assertions that the think tank wasn’t involved with how the study was designed or carried out.

“Religious right groups such as the Witherspoon Institute have for years been challenging the legality of gay marriage on all fronts and trying to amass data that that can be used to sway the public, lawmakers, and the courts to their side of the debate. Groups seeking to block gay marriage have been eager to use Regnerus’ study – and even further twist his findings – as evidence that gay parents are inferior to straight parents.”

Regnerus’s study has been cited in friend of the court briefs filed by groups opposing marriage equality in both of the equal marriage cases the Supreme Court will consider this spring: U.S. v. Windsor, a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which seeks to overturn California’s marriage equality ban, Proposition 8.  It has even been cited by a federal judge in Hawaii in his decision upholding the state’s ban on marriage equality in the case Jackson v. Abercrombie.

As critics of the study have pointed out, Regnerus’s research in many cases compared families headed by opposite-sex couples with families in which parents had broken up because of one member’s sexuality–not with stable, two-parent families headed by same-sex couples.  In fact, the American Sociological Association itself filed a brief in the Prop 8 case asserting that Regnerus’s study “did not specifically examine children raised by same-sex parents, and provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes.”

In an email obtained by the American Indepdent that was written to Regnerus in September 2010, Luis Tellez, the president of the Witherspoon Institute, stressed to the professor his desire that the study proceed quickly:

“‘Naturally we would like to move along as expeditiously as possible but experience suggests we ought not to get hung up with deadlines, do what is right and best, move on it, don’t dilly dolly, etc.  It would be great to have this before major decisions of the Supreme Court but that is secondary to the need to do this and do it well. I would like you to take ownership and think of how would you want it done, rather than someone like me dictating parameters but of course, here to help.’

“Tellez later told the American Independent that he had no expectations about the results of the study.  ‘When I wrote those comments,’ the email reads, ‘I did not know what the outcome of the research would be, regardless of what that outcome would turned [sic] out to be.'”

In its brief, the American Sociological Association wrote that a clear consensus amongst the social science community demonstrates that “children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well as children raised by opposite-sex parents.”  Furthermore, the brief noted that [n]umerous nationally representative, credible, and methodologically sound social science studies form the basis of this consensus.”

1 Comment

  • 1. Equality On Trial »&hellip  |  August 21, 2013 at 8:05 am

    […]  In March, before the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, we reported on a Huffington Post/American Independent investigation that found that the study had been […]

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