Saturday, June 30, 2012


Social Science Research, the journal that published Mark Regnerus's study, is being challenged by 200 science professionals, most of whom hold PhDs or MDs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A closer look at Mark Regnerus's "Children of Gay Parents" study

If you're a straight Christian, you may soon be hearing about an exciting new study conducted by the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), headed up by someone named Mark Regnerus. This study concludes that the children of gay parents turn out to have more problems in their adult life than children raised by heterosexual parents in stable, traditional households. These results supposedly fly in the face of many previous studies that have been done, which have concluded that children raised by gay couples turn out no differently than those raised by heterosexual parents. In a more accessible summary of the NFSS findings, Mark Regnerus reports the following:
On 25 of 40 different outcomes evaluated, the children of women who've had same-sex relationships fare quite differently than those in stable, biologically-intact mom-and-pop families . . . . Respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male to female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things.
What makes this study seemingly more credible is that the NFSS conducted their research using a national probability sample population--which is the largest population sample that has ever been used for such a study--with the help of over three-quarters of a million dollars in funding, according to Box Turtle Bulletin.

Already Christian bloggers are tuning in. Finally, a credible study has been done using a large population sample to give us accurate results. Could this be the study that confirms our suspicions that the liberal world of psychology and sociology has been biased in their studies of children raised by gay or lesbian couples? That they've been cherry picking their samples to manipulate a favorable outcome for the gay and lesbian community?

The actual study is a daunting read, but if you're interested in getting to the bottom of this I strongly recommend Jim Burroway's excellent critique of this study on Box Turtle Bulletin. And yet I would say you don't even have to look as far as Burroway's critique to know there is something wrong with the NFSS study. You can pick up the trail just from reading Mark Regnerus's summary article about this study on Slate.

For instance, read this statement by Mark Regnerus on how he surveyed his population sample:
Instead of relying on small samples, or the challenges of discerning sexual orientation of household residents using census data, my colleagues and I randomly screened over 15,000 Americans aged 18-39 and asked them if their biological mother or father ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex. I realize that one same-sex relationship does not a lesbian make, necessarily. But our research team was less concerned with the complicated politics of sexual identity than with same-sex behavior. (My italics.)
Wait. I thought this study was about comparing children who were raised in a same-sex-couple household with children who were raised by heterosexual parents. Because that's what all those other studies were about, right? And it is those studies that Regnerus claims to be challenging. But notice that the NFSS interviewed children whose parents "ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex." That is quite different from interviewing children who were raised from a very young age by a same-sex couple in a stable family situation.

By asking this question, the NFSS sample is necessarily going to include many, many children of parents in mixed-orientation marriages. Let me explain what that is. A mixed-orientation marriage is when one of the parents is straight and the other is gay, but the gay partner chose to marry their opposite-sex partner in order to appear straight or fulfill social expectations. Quite often the straight partner didn't even know he or she was marrying someone who was gay. Mixed-orientation marriages are quite common today, but were even more common in a previous generation, that is, the generation who raised the now-grown children that the NFSS interviewed.

To explain further: according to the NFSS study, these grown children they interviewed whose parents "ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex" were born between 1972 and 1993, a time when gay marriage wasn't available to their parents' generation, or was even on the radar screen of society. If you were a gay or lesbian adult in the 1970's, '80's or '90's, marrying an opposite-sex partner was the only option available to you aside from lifelong singleness. It probably never even occurred to any gay or lesbian person of that time that they might someday be able to legally marry a same-sex partner. So they entered into regular marriages, became unhappy, struggled with temptation, and quite often reached a breaking point when, out of desperation, they either had a gay affair or ended the marriage so they could be free to pursue a gay relationship.

So . . . if you were to take a random sample from a large section of the population born between 1972 and 1993, and ask if any of them had parents who "ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex," chances are the vast majority of those who were aware of having a gay parent during their growing up years became aware of that fact because Mom or Dad had a homosexual affair, or it came out after a divorce that Mom or Dad was gay. The odds are very much against stumbling upon children who were raised by a gay couple, who were able to live like a married couple at a time when gay marriage was unheard of, and who somehow got legal custody of the children so that they were able to raise them for many years in a stable household situation. In other words, the odds are very much against the study coming across children of that generation who were raised in the very situation that interests us most.

Instead we are going to end up with a sample of children who grew under much more stressful circumstances than normal. Because for the majority of them the gay or lesbian parent in question had started out in a mixed-orientation marriage (probably unbeknownst to their straight partner), had at some point acted upon their homosexuality, or divorced before they could act out, and disrupted their family life as a result. The gay relationship in question may have lasted two months, two years, or two decades--who knows? The study doesn't say. We don't know if some parents' marriages survived, but there is a good chance that many of them ended in divorce. Divorce is already traumatic enough, but if the split came because one person was found out to be gay or lesbian, the feelings of hurt, shame, betrayal and anger would be that much more intensified.

Is it any wonder that children who grew up under such circumstances are more prone to being characterized as "unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male to female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life"? Oddly, these children sound very similar to those who grew up in broken homes, or with step-parents, or with single parents. Oh wait . . . maybe it's because NFSS's "Has your biological mother or father ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same-sex?" survey question naturally singles out children who grew up under those exact types of circumstances.

The study isn't so much about what happens when children are raised by gay parents as it is about children who grew up under traumatic circumstances. That is very different from a situation where children are raised from a very young age by two mothers or two fathers, who have always known the love and security that comes from a stable two-parent home--except that their parents both happen to be of the same sex.

Yet Mark Regnerus wants to pretend that his study is somehow relevant to the previous studies that centered around the stable-gay-couple parenting situation. In Regnerus's summary of his study published by Slate, he claims he can't figure out why his study came to such different conclusions.
Why such dramatic differences? I can only speculate, since the data are not poised to pinpoint causes. One notable theme among the adult children of same-sex parents, however, is household instability, and plenty of it.
"Household instability." I wonder how on earth that element came to factor so strongly into this equation? Could it be, perhaps, that Regnerus and the NFSS surveyed their population sample in a way that singled out children who were raised in unstable household situations?

And yet in the Slate article Regnerus goes on to suggest that it's really the previous studies that are guilty of bias:
So why did this study come up with such different results than previous work in the field? And why should one study alter so much previous sentiment? Basically, better methods. When it comes to assessing how children of gay parents are faring, the careful methods and random sampling approach found in demography has not often been employed by scholars studying this issue, due in part—to be sure—to the challenges in locating and surveying small minorities randomly. In its place, the scholarly community has often been treated to small, nonrandom “convenience” studies of mostly white, well-educated lesbian parents, including plenty of data-collection efforts in which participants knew that they were contributing to important studies with potentially substantial political consequences, elevating the probability of something akin to the “Hawthorne Effect.” This is hardly an optimal environment for collecting unbiased data (and to their credit, many of the researchers admitted these challenges). 
Hmm, yes, we need better methods, don't we? Better methods that produce "unbiased data." Especially if participants know they are "contributing to important studies with potentially substantial political consequences." Apparently, Mark Regnerus well understands these political consequences, as he writes in Slate:
This study arrives in the middle of a season that’s already exhibited plenty of high drama over same-sex marriage, whether it’s DOMA, the president’s evolving perspective, Prop 8 pinball, or finished and future state ballot initiatives. The political take-home message of the NFSS study is unclear, however. On the one hand, the instability detected in the NFSS could translate into a call for extending the relative security afforded by marriage to gay and lesbian couples. On the other hand, it may suggest that the household instability that the NFSS reveals is just too common among same-sex couples to take the social gamble of spending significant political and economic capital to esteem and support this new (but tiny) family form while Americans continue to flee the stable, two-parent biological married model, the far more common and accomplished workhorse of the American household, and still—according to the data, at least—the safest place for a kid.
Regnerus is surprisingly articulate about the "social gamble" of supporting same-sex marriage against the "safest" and "more common and accomplished" traditional parenting situation, considering that he claims his study is "unclear" about the political implications for same-sex marriage. Somehow, I don't believe that he is unaware of the political implications of his study at all.

On the other hand, Regnerus's offhand remark that the NFSS study "could translate into a call for extending the relative security afforded by marriage to gay and lesbian couples" is very much on the mark. Making same-sex marriage legally available gives gays and lesbians an option other than a mixed-orientation marriage which, years down the line, often results in the type of strained and broken family situation that traumatizes children in ways that the NFSS research has brought to light. Studying how children fared who grew up in such situations in the '70's, '80's and '90's only confirms that we need to get away from the old way of relegating gays and lesbians to the closet, and seek out new solutions such as legalizing same-sex marriage more widely in this country, for the health, security and safety of children.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The growing crisis at Christian colleges

This latest news about the existence of the "Biola Queer Underground" falls in line with other stories I've heard about recently. Faculty and administration of Christian colleges all over the country are learning that LGBT students exist on campus, and it is getting increasingly difficult to ignore these students or expect them to stay silent and invisible. The students of BQU are not demanding that Biola University change its policy against same-sex sexual intimacy. They are asking to be open about their identities without fear of repercussions. They want to talk about homosexuality beyond the let-me-show-you-how-it's-a-sin routine. And they want the school to invite speakers who can present different perspectives on homosexuality than what Biola's policy statement represents. It is an academic institution, after all.

Last year One Wheaton, a group of LGBT Wheaton students and graduates, expressed similar concerns about Wheaton College, about the fear and hiding and hurt they've experienced as students there. This year GCN (Gay Christian Network) executive director Justin Lee has been travelling and speaking at Christian colleges around the country in an effort to open up friendly and thoughtful dialogue over these topics. It is certainly needed.

What's happening at Christian colleges shouldn't come as a surprise. Over the last ten years I've noticed an interesting trend. An increasing number of high school students were tuning into gay issues not primarily because of the rhetoric they heard at church, nor because of the so-called "liberal media," but because they themselves had close friends who were gay or lesbian. Conversations were taking place, feelings were being shared, support was being given, and barriers were falling, quite often within the safety of a public school environment where anti-bullying policies were enforced or a Gay-Straight Alliance Club was present on campus.

The public charter high school my daughter attends is a good example. If anti-gay slurs or bullying takes place among the students, the administration is on it, fast. When students participated in the annual Day of Silence in protest of anti-LGBT behavior, some of the teachers took the initiative to explain the meaning of the day to their classes. There is a feeling of safety, openness, acceptance, and faculty and administration support on campus. These high school kids then graduate, expecting to move on to bigger and better things.

Enter the Christian college. Suppose my daughter were to make the transition from her present high school to one of the more typical conservative Christian colleges. She would be going from an atmosphere where the presence of gay students was accepted to a place where they were invisible and largely in hiding. She would be going from a secular campus where teachers and administrators understood sexual orientation issues and advocated for the dignity of every student, to a supposedly "Christian" campus where she would largely hear homosexuality talked about as sin, sin, and more sin. And by the way, in case you didn't know, it's sin. In short, she would feel like she had gone backward, not forward.

Wait, isn't this supposed to be a Christian college and therefore a place of greater love, understanding and grace than anything the secular world has to offer? At the very least, it's supposed to be a college, that is, an academic environment that is more intellectually sophisticated than high school, where advanced knowledge is explored and ideas are exchanged and debated.

Hence, the current crisis.

Christian colleges are also supposed to be a place where the future leadership of the church is trained up. In another ten years these college kids are going to be our pastors, elders, deacons, missionaries, counselors, and Sunday school teachers. They are the generation that is going to have to deal most seriously with the question, "Is same-sex sexual intimacy a sin?" because nothing short of their own cherished relationships with gay and lesbian family, friends, and fellow church members will be at stake.

It might be a good idea for Christian colleges to set up debate panels and invite speakers from the opposing side so that students can hear all the arguments. It might be a good idea to get your Ph.D.-laden faculty out there to model for students how to engage the opposing side with intelligence, fair-mindedness, and a spirit of brotherly affection. It might not be a good idea to hide behind a policy statement and trot out the same, tired, unchallenged rhetoric every time the subject comes up.

Because that doesn't fly when you find yourself confronted with actual arguments from actual Bible texts from actual Christians who think differently than you. And one day these college students most certainly will be confronted, except as leaders of the church when so much more is at stake. As they reflect upon these issues, someday, when they aren't forced to go to chapel or write that twenty-page paper, when their concerns revolve more around people and relationships and lives, they will probably gravitate toward the side that showed itself to be the most credible, most informed, most sound, and most loving.

I think we have our work cut out for us.