Controversial Parenting Study Reaches the Courts

The debunked study that accused same-sex parents of being inferior to their straight counterparts is now being wielded by proponents of DOMA in courts.



Just one day after the results of a controversial parenting study were released to the public, the research was used — and misrepresented — in a federal court brief defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The brief was filed by a conservative medical group at the urging of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an influential religious right legal organization. It illustrates the right’s strategy of using the new research — which was funded by two conservative organizations — in legal battles to preserve bans on gay marriage.

On June 10, the journal Social Science Research published the findings of University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus’ “New Family Structures Study,” which compared people raised in biologically intact two-parent families to people raised in families in which one of the parents had a same-sex romantic relationship at some point. Regnerus found that the children of parents who had a same-sex relationship fared poorly by comparison. Almost immediately, the study was criticized for using a “loaded classification system” to engage in an apples-to-oranges comparison.

The day after Regnerus’ study first appeared online, a conservative group called the American College of Pediatricians cited it in a “friend of the court” brief in Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management, one of the ongoing federal lawsuits challenging DOMA. The ACP’s use of the study was first reported on The New Civil Rights Movement website.

In February, a federal district court had ruled that a key section of DOMA was unconstitutional. In its brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Gainesville, Fla.-based pediatricians’ group noted that the district judge had cited research concluding that children were not harmed by being raised by same-sex parents.

“The court below did not have at its disposal the most current research on child outcomes for children raised by same-sex couples,” argued the ACP, referring to Regnerus’ newly released research. The brief then summarized “some of the statistically significant differences where children raised by two women fared worse than children raised by married biological parents” — including “cohabitation,” “receiving welfare while growing up,” “currently receiving public assistance,” “current employment,” “current unemployment,” “having an affair while married or cohabiting,” “having been touched sexually by a parent or other adult,” and “ever having been forced to have sex against their will.”
ACP is a nonprofit group with a history of controversial statements. Its website describes same-sex parenting as “potentially hazardous to children” and elsewhere asserts that “sexual reorientation therapy can be effective.”

In an interview, ACP President Dr. Den Trumbull said that his group was asked to write the brief by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz., that was known until this week as the Alliance Defense Fund.

Trumbull, who is a pediatrician in Montgomery, Ala., said the Alliance Defending Freedom’s legal department contacted the ACP about a week or two before the brief was filed.

“It was brought to our attention that there was a need for some clarification on the benefits of marriage versus same-sex unions, civil unions, or other configurations of marriage,” Trumbull said. “We are there to assist policymakers in any way we can to help them understand or publicize the correct science.”