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.



Left: Mark Regnerus


The Alliance Defending Freedom, which was co-founded by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and boasts a $34 million budget, confirmed this account. An official with the legal group said in an email that it had suggested that ACP file the brief “because of the organization’s valuable contribution to studying how parenting structure impacts child outcomes, and especially their research concluding that the ideal structure is a married mother and father.”

The brief references a number of academic studies. Both the Alliance Defending Freedom and the ACP said they did not receive an advance copy of Regnerus’ study.

Misrepresenting the study

Trumbull’s group also misrepresented Regnerus’ research in a way that obscures some of the harshest criticism of the study.

The ACP’s brief repeatedly asserts that the study assessed outcomes for “children raised by same-sex couples” or “children raised by two women” or “two men.”

But what Regnerus actually did was compare people who spent their entire childhood living with their married, biological parents to people who grew up in a family in which at least one of their parents had a same-sex romantic relationship at some point. In other words, the group of people Regnerus coded as having a “gay father” or a “lesbian mother” consisted not simply of people raised by two same-sex parents, but also of people raised by parents who were separated or divorced or whose parents had same-sex affairs.

Indeed, only a small percentage of the children Regnerus coded as having gay parents said they had been raised in a same-sex household for more than a few years. According to the study:

Among those who said their mother had a same-sex relationship, 91% reported living with their mother while she was in the romantic relationship, and 57% said they had lived with their mother and her partner for at least 4 months at some point prior to age 18. A smaller share (23%) said they had spent at least 3 years living in the same household with a romantic partner of their mother’s.

Among those who said their father had a same-sex relationship, however, 42% reported living with him while he was in a same-sex romantic relationship, and 23% reported living with him and his partner for at least 4 months (but less than 2% said they had spent at least 3 years together in the same household) ...

Regnerus, who did not respond to a request for comment, has further acknowledged: “We had only two cases in which mom and her partner were together for 18 years. We’ve got only six cases where mom and her partner were reported to have stayed together for 10 or more years, and 18 cases for five years.”

Slate’s William Saletan has criticized this methodology as a “loaded classification system” that “produced predictable results.” Saletan suggested that the study actually bolstered the case for gay marriage, writing that it shows that “kids from broken homes headed by gay people develop the same problems as kids from broken homes headed by straight people.”