Mark Regnerus, the "sociology scholar" (if one can call him that) who is most famous for his thoroughly debunked study on same-sex parenting, came out with a new "study" trying to "prove" that pro-LGBT Christians will lead to an immoral, sexually unrestrained world. Like his first study, Regnerus' new study is clearly motivated by politics as opposed to sophisticated scholarship and contains weak arguments.
For those of you unfamiliar with Regnerus' previous study, a rehash can help provide context for this "researcher's" reliability. A couple years back, Regnerus, an assistant professor at the University of Texas no one had heard of, suddenly made the national spotlight when anti-LGBTQ equality activists rallied around a study he had just published. The "study" showed that children raised by same-sex parents fared worse in comparison to children raised by heterosexual couples. The only problem with the study, however, was that the study didn't actually study children raised by same-sex parents. Instead, the study, except for less than 1% of participants, examined adults had been raised decades ago in what was called "broken" homes; and, as David Badash of The New Civil Rights Movement aptly notes, "Naturally, children raised in troubled homes might be more likely to have emotional challenges as adults -- which is why marriage, including same-sex marriage, is important."
The study was so obviously flawed, liberals and conservatives alike criticized it. When the study was used as evidence in a federal court case, the judge dismissed it as "entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration." It was later revealed that the study was driven by its anti-LGBTQ equality agenda from the start, further confirming that it in no way undermined the consensus of studies that in fact show children raised by same-sex couples fare just as well as children raised by any other parents.
After being so embarrassingly and thoroughly debunked, the fact that anti-LGBTQ groups are now taking Regnerus' new "study" seriously shows how desperate these groups to persuade the public.
In Box Turtle Bulletin's analysis, Jim Burroway makes a good point that Regnerus' new "study" is not a published, scholarly study but a blog post, despite how seriously anti-LGBTQ groups are taking it.
In short, Regnerus' blog post, rather than targeting same-sex parents, targets pro-LGBT Christians and attempts to prove that favoring marriage equality leads to a sexually unrestrained, immoral world – a range of "Very Bad Things," Burroway puts it. In demonstrating his claim, Regnerus compares churchgoing Christians who oppose marriage equality to churchgoing Christians who support marriage equality in their views on pornography, premarital cohabitation, divorce, polyamory, and abortion. For further comparison, Regnerus also surveys the views of Christian and non-Christian gays and lesbians ("notice here he drops “Churchgoing” — is this yet another apples to horse meat comparison that he’s so fond of?"), as well as those of the general population.
The findings? Churchgoing Christians who support marriage equality are more like to support Regnerus' list of Very Bad Things than churchgoing Christians who oppose marriage equality. Gay and lesbian Christians are even more likely to support Very Bad Things, and, Burroway writes, "for Gay and Lesbian non-Christians, the numbers are off the charts. Speaking of charts, he handily provides this one that others can pull out and repost, shorn of all context and the few caveats he bothers to throw in:"
Why is Regnerus' new "study" so suspect? Burroway writes,
Like I said, this isn’t a study. It doesn’t have any of the hallmarks of a study, not even like those you’ll find in his deliberately flawed study that a low-ranked journal bent over backwards to publish for political reasons. He calls this Religion In America survey “a population-based sample, meaning that its results are nationally representative,” but he doesn’t describe how it came about. For a real study, you can’t just say that and leave it at that. He also doesn’t provide any of the standard tests to show which comparisons are statistically relevant in his chart. Even the lowest ranking journals would reject a study outright if it doesn’t include that critical information. And as I said, he doesn’t define some of his subpopulation categories, and we’ve already seen how he has exploited those definitions to force the results he wants to get. We have ample grounds to question whether he’s up to that old trick again. So until he publishes these results with at least a thin veneer of rigor, there really isn’t much to see here.
Beyond methodology, Regnerus' conclusions are much too simplistic by academic standards. Regnerus assumes that support of marriage equality is an isolated variable; in other words, that supporting marriage equality directly causes one to support Very Bad Things. Although Regnerus says in his article that he is not making this "slippery slope" argument, the blog post's title "Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Marriage Future,” says otherwise. History shows that Regnerus including a caveat in a study does not stop him from ignoring these caveats when talking to the public to make his argument seem stronger than it actually is:
When he published that so-called “gay parenting study” in 2012, he peppered it with a host of caveats:
The NFSS is not a longitudinal study, and therefore cannot attempt to broach questions of causation. … It does not evaluate the offspring of gay marriages, since the vast majority of its respondents came of age prior to the legalization of gay marriage in several states … American courts are finding arguments against gay marriage decreasingly persuasive. This study is intended to neither undermine nor affirm any legal rights concerning such.
But when Regnerus spoke to the press, he resolutely abandoned all of those caveats. My prediction: he’ll do the same with the slippery slope argument. My reaction: good luck with that. Marriage equality opponents have been flailing that dead horse for more than a decade, and there is zero evidence that it has moved the needle one iota in their direction.
Burroway also points out that Regnerus' obvious implication that supporting marriage equality causes one to support Very Bad Things has a precedent in overly simplistic, radical anti-LGBTQ equality rhetoric:
It’s reminiscent of what The Weekly Standard’s Stanley Kurtz tried to claim in 2004 when he said that Registered Partnerships in Scandinavia (there was no same-sex marriage at the time) had already led to more divorces, fewer marriages and more out-of-wedlock children, while ignoring the fact that those trends were well in place long before the idea of recognizing same-sex relationships came along. In other words, same-sex marriage (or registered partnerships) was not a controlling variable for those other trends, and there’s no reason to believe it’s a controlling variable for Regnerus’s Very Bad Things here.
Even assuming the study is perfectly sound, which is very unlikely, what exactly does it "prove"? According to Regnerus, it's that supporting marriage equality will lead you to support anything-goes sex, and unlimited abortion, and so on.
Burroway provides a far more logical explanation:
Those who oppose marriage equality are much more likely to be the kinds of busybodies with Deeply Held Beliefs about how other people should live their lives. They may say they they oppose pre-marital sex, extra-martial sex, no-strings sex, and getting divorced despite having children — for other people — but they will wind up doing those many of those Very Bad Things themselves at rates rather similar to, and in some cases (divorce, for example) higher than many other people, despite what they may say in a survey.
Conversely, those who support marriage equality are more likely to have a healthier, more laissez-faire attitude toward how other people order their lives, and they tend to be much less judgmental of other people. And gays and lesbians, who have experienced a lifetime of busybodies giving them unrealistic, unsolicited edicts in how to order their lives, are the most reluctant of all to turn around and do the same to others. And what about the Population Average? Well, nobody likes a busybody.