Why Conservative Mark Regnerus' Anti-Gay Marriage Study is Flawed

| by Michael Allen

Numerous Christian conservatives, including Focus on the Family, have been quoting Mark Regnerus, a professor at University of Texas at Austin, who recently released a study that claims children of gay parents turn out worse than children of straight parents.

Regnerus says that his study shows that children with gay parents are more likely to be unemployed, commit suicide, use drugs, have an STD and become a victim of sexual abuse.

Regnerus wrote on that children of same-sex parents experience greater "household instability" and how it is a "social gamble" to "support this new (but tiny) family form."

However, that's not actually what Regnerus' study shows.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

While Regnerus critiques "same-sex couples" raising kids, his study does not actually compare children raised by same-sex couples with those raised by different-sex couples. The criterion it uses is whether a parent "ever ha[d] a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex."

In fact, only a small proportion of its sample spent more than a few years living in a household headed by a same-sex couple. Indeed, the study acknowledges that what it's really comparing with heterosexual families is not families headed by a same-sex couple, but households in which parents broke up. "A failed heterosexual union," Regnerus writes in the study, "is clearly the modal method" — the most common characteristic for the group that he lumps in with same-sex-headed households.

Ever since same-sex marriage started to become a reality in the U.S., conservative groups such as the National Organization for Marriage and the Witherspoon Institute, which helped fund the Regnerus study, have cited research that — it's claimed — shows that gay parenting is a bad idea.

The trouble is that no scholarly research, including the Regnerus paper, has ever compared children of stable same-sex couples to children of stable different-sex couples, in part because an adequate sample size is hard to come by.

As reported by, Regnerus later admitted that his study does not even represent the results of gay parenting vs. straight parenting:

Regnerus acknowledged that “the sample size of respondents whose parents report a same-sex relationship is substantial but not large enough to explore some of the more fine-grained distinctions that may well be present.”

I recognize, with Paul and Cynthia, that organizations may utilize these findings to press a political program. And I concur with them that that is not what data come prepared to do. Paul offers wise words of caution against it, as did I in the body of the text. Implying causation here—to parental sexual orientation or anything else, for that matter—is a bridge too far.

Oddly, however, Regnerus is stiil appearing on various media programs slamming same-sex marriage in regards to parenting.