A few weeks ago I—like many others—wrote a criticism of Mark Regnerus’s study of child-welfare outcomes in different family structures. He claimed that his study debunks the idea that children in same-sex households do just as well as children in traditional heterosexual households; I argued (and still maintain) that it does no such thing.
My criticism prompted a rebuttal from Maggie Gallagher, which prompted a rejoinder from me and then another from Gallagher.
It turns out that Gallagher is right in one detail, and I want to set the record straight.
Our disagreement was about who counted as a “Lesbian Mother” or “Gay Father” in Regnerus’s study. I argued that Regnerus’s criteria were so loose that even, say, Ted Haggard would count as a “Gay Father.” Section 2 of Regnerus’s report states that the survey asked the following question:
“From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever [emphasis in original] have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?” Response choices were “Yes, my mother had a romantic relationship with another woman,” “Yes, my father had a romantic relationship with another man,” or “no.””
Regnerus goes on to explain that a “Yes” answer to these questions trumped other categories for the purpose of the study. (The categories divide children as follows: 1. Intact Biological Family (IBF), 2. Lesbian Mother (LM), 3. Gay Father (GF), 4. Adopted, 5. Divorced Later, 6. Stepfamily, 7. Single Parent, 8. All others.) Here’s the part that misled me:
Together these eight groups account for the entire NFSS sample. These eight groups are largely, but not entirely, mutually exclusive in reality. That is, a small minority of respondents might fit more than one group. I have, however, forced their mutual exclusivity here for analytic purposes. For example, a respondent whose mother had a same-sex relationship might also qualify in Group 5 or Group 7, but in this case my analytical interest is in maximizing the sample size of Groups 2 and 3 so the respondent would be placed in Group 2 (LMs). Since Group 3 (GFs) is the smallest and most difficult to locate randomly in the population, its composition trumped that of others, even LMs.
Regnerus’s explanation implies that GFs and LMs trumped all other categories. But in fact, they trumped all of the others except IBF. Had I looked up the survey instrument (which I should have) rather than relying on the above narrative, I would have spotted this.
So while the substance of my criticism stands—this study is not a study of same-sex parenting at all—my examples need to be altered. For example, Ted Haggard (who is still in an “Intact Biological Family”) would have to be replaced, with, say, Jim McGreevey, or some other person who divorced before his children reached eighteen.
None of this should be much comfort to Regnerus, who, failing to find a statistically significant random sample of such households, went ahead anyway and framed his study as one about same-sex parenting. But only 23 percent of those in the “Lesbian Mother” category reported living with their mother and her partner for at least three years, and less than 2 percent of those in the “Gay Father” category reported living with their father and his partner for at least three years.
It should not surprise us that these children’s outcomes look like those of children of single parents and divorced parents—because the overwhelming majority of them are the children of single parents and divorced parents.
Comparing them to “Intact Biological Families” for the purposes of drawing conclusions about same-sex parenting was, is, and will continue to be bogus.