Opinion
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All the gay parenting studies are flawed

Photo of David Benkof
David Benkof
Freelance Writer

Friday’s federal district court ruling that struck down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was the first such decision to center on same-sex parenting research. Judge Bernard Friedman utterly dismissed the testimony of University of Texas Sociology Prof. Mark Regnerus, whose controversial research purports to show disadvantages for children being raised by lesbian and gay couples. Friedman called Regnerus’s testimony “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.”

Indeed, media and LGBT organizations have repeatedly declared the Regnerus study to be “flawed,” which it is.

But all the gay parenting studies to date have been flawed, some even deeply flawed in their objectivity, methodology, and focus. In preparing for this essay, I read more than 50 studies that supposedly “prove” same-sex parenting is completely equal to opposite-sex parenting. Every single bit of research had at least one of the substantial drawbacks I outline below.

Can LGBT scholars be objective researchers?

To start with, objective research requires objective researchers. My survey of the publicly available information about the sexual orientations of the researchers on gay parenting suggests at least 60 percent are LGBT themselves. Another 15 percent or so are straight-identified or in opposite-sex relationships, and I could find no data about the sexualities of the others.

Even if a gay psychological or sociological researcher isn’t consciously designing a study to support gay-parenting rights, subconscious factors could tip the scales in that direction. And what if the final research data supports a conclusion that opposite-sex parenting is superior? Might an LGBT scholar “conveniently” leave such research on the shelf?

Studies on gay parenting written by LGBT researchers have at least the appearance of bias, and if such scholars want parenting research to be taken seriously by public policy officials, they should have recused themselves or at least disclosed the potential conflict. Judges don’t rule on cases involving firms they own and IRS agents never audit themselves.

The principal researcher for the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, often considered the “gold standard” of this kind of research because of its longevity and scope, is Dr. Nanette Gartrell. She’s married to a woman. And in the Michigan decision, the judge called one of the main witnesses for the plaintiffs, demographer Gary Gates, a “highly credible witness.” Yet Gates is so prominent in the LGBT community he was named to OUT magazine’s 2010 list of the “OUT 100” top gays and lesbians.

Beyond Gartrell and Gates, the list of LGBT scholars on this topic who have a personal vested interest in validating gay Moms and Dads is long. It includes Lee Badgett, Jerry Bigner, Rachel Farr, Steven Forssell, Shawn V. Giammattei, Naomi Goldberg, Gregory M. Herek, Joan Laird, Arlene Istar Lev, Valory Mitchell, Betty Morningstar, Charlotte J. Patterson, Heidi Peyser, Stacey Shuster, and Dava Weinstein.

But, one might object, nobody accuses heterosexual researchers of bias when they write about opposite-sex parenting. But there is no “straight agenda” for those scholars to bolster. Besides, they generally work at universities, where only a small percentage of faculty members are conservative on social issues.

Does money matter?

Judge Friedman’s decision repeats a frequently lodged complaint that Regnerus was funded by outsiders who expected him to reinforce traditional ideas about marriage and the family: “The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged.”

But the court found the testimony of David Brodzinsky to be “fully credible” and gave it “considerable weight” even though Brodzinsky’s own research has been subsidized by $100,000 from the foundation of openly gay entrepreneur David Bohnett and another $20,000 from the “Rainbow Endowment.” How could Brodzinsky ever be expected to say anything negative about the influence of same-sex environments on children when he’s taken six figures from the LGBT community?