When research is really "research": A look at the Michigan Four

GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project focuses on the commentators who appear in the print, digital, and broadcast media for the purposes of denigrating LGBT people and/or undermining equal civil rights. But what about those who do the same job but in more subtle, less media-trained ways? Their effects can often be as (if not more) damaging.

Case in point: Last week, the Michigan Attorney General's office announced that four people who have spent time on the subject of families headed by same-sex couples will defend in court that state's bans on same-sex marriage and adoption. Those four names: Mark Regnerus, Douglas Allen, Loren Marks, and Joseph Price. With the possible exception of Regnerus, these men are not household names to most Americans—and that under-the-radar status makes their agenda that much more dangerous.

First there's Doug Allen.  A board member of the rabidly anti-LGBT Ruth Institute—which, until recently was an affiliate organization of the the National Organization For Marriage—Allen has spent considerable time trying to shape public opinion against families headed by same-sex parents.  As Zack Ford from ThinkProgress reports:

[Allen's] primary focus has been his belief that the children of same-sex couples fare worse in school. In 2012, he revisited a 2010 study that had found that children of same-sex couples face no academic disadvantage, but applied Regnerus’ flawed parameter of children who were not biologically related to the head of household and who were not in the same home for at least five years — in other words, unstable homes. Under this new definition, he claimed that “children being raised by same-sex couples are 35 percent less likely to make normal progress through school,” blaming the problem entirely on same-sex parenting and not the unstable family structures that clearly impacted the result.

More recently, Allen has attempted a similar trick using data from Canada’s 2006 census, concluding,”Children living with gay and lesbian families in 2006 were about 65 percent as likely to graduate [high school] compared to children living in opposite sex marriage families.”

FULL: Michigan Officials Will Defend Discrimination With Showcase Of Gay Parenting Pseudoscience [ThinkProgress]

The researcher whose work Allen challenged on more than one occasion, Michael Rosenfeld, has responded to Allen's "revisiting" of his studies, taking down every one of his counter arguments (that's here but you have to pay).  Rosenfeld also told LGBT activist and writer Scott Rose:

I have had the funny experience of receiving phone calls from non-academics who have heard Allen describe his critique of my paper, and based on his (apparently misleading) description, are outraged against me. The outraged people who have heard Allen speak call me and want to know if I have read Allen’s critique. I say, “Of course I have read it, I published a response in the same journal Demography, right alongside the critique,” and they say “What journal was that?” because they have never heard of the journal Demography, much less read my papers in the journal."

And that is exactly what Allen and his fellows want to happen: for their supporters to accept what they are saying at face value without digging any deeper.  That's the agenda-motivated game they are playing for both political access and profit.  That is the through-line that connects all of these groups, researchers, and "research."

Among the others scheduled to testify in Michigan, Joseph Price and Loren Marks are the least known.  Price is an economics professor at Brigham Young University who joined the aforementioned Allen on his most recent twisting of Rosenfeld's work, and who signed on to an animus brief calling on the Supreme Court to uphold marriage discrimination; Marks is a professor focused on social work whose critiques of research that supports equality (particularly that which has the support of the American Psychological Association) is then used by the others to call into question the validity of LGBT families.  Both are firmly planted members of this small crew that has taken on as a pet cause this work of undercutting our families.  

Mr. Marks was part of a particularly telling moment back during the Proposition 8 trial—one which should tell you a thing or two about whether the agenda or sound research is more fully guiding his hand. Here's Zack Ford again:

Marks was also called to testify in favor of Proposition 8 back in 2010, but the team defending the anti-gay amendment ended up not using his testimony in the actual trial because he hadn’t actually read the studies he used to argue against same-sex parenting. He was trying to claim that children did best with their “biological” parents, but the studies he’d used actually included adoptive parents too. He admitted during deposition that he had considered no research that actually evaluated gay and lesbian parents, and that his bias against same-sex families predated any of his scholarly research.

FULL: Michigan Officials Will Defend Discrimination With Showcase Of Gay Parenting Pseudoscience [ThinkProgress]

Basically, this kind of work, which gains ground within the far-right circles eager to promote it (or even finance it), tends to break down under close examination.  However, that only happens if we are persisitent in calling it out!

Which brings us to the last of "The Michigan Four."  As I indicated earlier, Mark Regnerus is the one name who might be somewhat familiar to Michigan residents.  However, the reason why Regnerus' name is more known is the very reason why his testimony against marriage equality should be taken with a grain of salt (if not the whole shaker).

Regnerus is the man behind the 2012 study that far-right organizations both crafted and promoted during the last election and Supreme Court cycle, in hopes of changing the tide so that it goes against equality.  Their hope was to add scientific heft to the idea that gay people are terrible parents who damage their kids, thinking that if they crafted this portrait of our families then Americans would also turn against protections in regard to things like marriage equality.  Far-right groups recruited Regnerus to take on this work, and he did so with both gusto and glee (*we will learn more about the roots soon, as a court just demanded the release of emails pertaining to the study's creation).  Regnerus likely didn't expect the blowback.

But the blowback sure came.  Commentators, activists, reporters, and fair-minded researchers got on Regnerus' "study" early and loudly, poking so many holes in his supposed findings that the whole thing has arguably done more damage to the anti-LGBT movement than it has helped them gain ground.  The Regnerus study (as it is generally known) is so widely discredited at this point that it has almost become a conversation-ender for anyone who attempts to use it, as it shows that the person who is pushing it has a true agenda that is willing to overlook documented truth in order to push a pre-conceived narrative.  But again, this only happened because folks were vigilant against Regnerus' work.  People saw it for what it was (i.e. a really cruel effort to make same-sex parents seem damaging) and they were unafraid to CALL IT OUT!

And that is what we must continue to do.  Those of us who are aware of what's going on must continue to connect the dots for the broader public.  Many people, being of a general good nature, have a tendency to accept what they hear at face value, if the presented points have some sort of scientific language attached to them.  It's easy to hear "researcher" or "study" and think, "Ah, science—that must be true."  And in a perfect world, that would be a safe way to carry on.  Unfortunately, in the LGBT rights debate, "science" and "research" are not what they seem.  Groups like the National Organization For Marriage have admitted that they are trying to build an "expert witness project" stacked with folks who can lend a master's degree and a nice title to an agenda that is largely guided by personal faith opinion, a proud heterosexist outlook, and an unfortunate desire to subjugate certain kinds of Americans.  Trusting Americans would never suspect such cynical and agenda-driven motivations.

When these four make their way to Michigan in hopes of denying the rights and protections of the local LGBT protection, we must make sure that the truth comes to light.  That is if these four actually end up testifying, since, as I indicated earlier, their version of "research" tends to fare better as press release than it does as testimony.