John M. Becker

Mark Regnerus in the Hot Seat: A Lawyer's View

Filed By John M. Becker | March 06, 2014 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: gay marriage, gay parenting, junk science, LGBT parenting, Mark Regnerus, marriage discrimination, marriage equality, Michigan, New Family Structures Study, NFSS, same-sex marriage, same-sex parenting

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Jane A. Bassett is an attorney in private practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan who focuses on probate, elder law, and domestic partnership family issues, including estate planning, second parent adoption, probate administration, special needs trusts, nursing home and Medicaid issues, and elder abuse and exploitation. Ms. Bassett is a founding member of the Michigan non-profit corporation Coalition of Adoption Rights Equality, Inc., a charter member of the National Family Law Advisory Committee of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and a speaker at national law conferences on LGBT family and elder law.

This week, Ms. Bassett is attending and live-blogging the oral arguments in Deboer v. Snyder, the federal court case challenging Michigan's marriage discrimination amendment. These are her observations from the cross-examination of anti-gay researcher Mark Regnerus on Tuesday, March 4.


Leslie Cooper of the National ACLU cross-examined Mark Regnerus.

He acknowledged that more research had been done since 2005, but stated that a conclusion is "premature" and that "the science is unsettled around this stuff" [same-sex parenting].

He stated that the two participants in his study that were raised from birth through adulthood by a same-sex couple and reportedly "on average looked good" were too small of a sample to be relevant. He admitted that a study would take around 375,000 participants to yield 50 relevant participants to study that question. But, if there is a profound difference, then a smaller sample is sufficient.

mark_regnerus.jpgAttorney Cooper asked the cost of the NFSS, and the response was $415,000. A study to yield enough participants would be "in the eight-figure range". Regnerus guessed that the federal government would probably fund that kind of study, even if there are historians, psychologists, sociologist and pediatricians who have all concluded with their studies say that the outcomes for children are not negative.

Cooper asked Regnerus: if the government did not fund such a study, is it his opinion that same sex-marriage should never be allowed? The Michigan attorney general objected, and the objection was sustained.

Witness [Regnerus] stated that even if there were a type of study he specified as ideal that showed equivalent child outcomes to intact biological opposite-sex couples, he would not support same-sex marriage. He said that there were more considerations than child outcomes such as permanency, welcoming children and stability.

Witness states that stability is less common in households with two women, and fidelity is less common in households of two men. He did not cite any studies. Regnerus admitted that children of households with fewer resources have worse outcomes; he would not favor denying such couples marriage rights.

He admitted that children of parents with less education have worse outcomes, but would not favor denying such couples marriage rights.

Cooper: Are you in favor of denying marriage to people known to raise children who have not fared well? Regnerus: No, because other criteria around marriage are paramount. His position is that the state should privilege what is known to be an ideal environment for children.

More, after the break.

Regnerus recognizes that same-sex couples have children and that excluding marriage does not prohibit procreation. He knows of no studies that show otherwise. Does not know if marriage ban prevents any same-sex couples from having kids.

He stated that in the NFSS, for the children who reported having a parent who had a same-sex relationship and then reported only living with the same-sex couple for a limited amount of time, it was presumed that it was because the same-sex couple broke up (thereby indicating a higher break up rate among lesbians). He used the term "in that era" several times, and did acknowledge that the children studied in the NFSS were children born before ART [assisted reproductive technology] was a common process for bringing children into a same-sex couple family and were likely the children born to a prior opposite sex union that ended.

Regnerus said that it certainly was a possibility that children who report discontinuing residency with a mother who had a same-sex marriage may have moved out and the relationship continued, but did not see that it was much chance that the child could have left to move in with the father.

Heterosexual couples in the NFSS were not defined by asking a parallel question, such as "Did your parent ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex during the time from your birth until age 18?" The definition of opposite-sex couples controlled for household instability by its very definition. He added, "I didn't ask how happy the couple was".

He stated that he knew going into the research that children with disrupted households, in poverty, and with parents with less education in general have worse outcomes. He then testified that he had no idea what his study would show going in.

Regnerus distinguished his research by saying that he did not study sexual orientation, but rather sexual relationships. He stated that child outcomes in stable, planned LGB families are likely quite different from children born otherwise.

He indicated that he knew Paul Amato, and previously thought him to be a moderate in politics. Paul Amato has debunked [Regnerus's] work. He states that witness has made conflicting statements in public and in writing as to what his work means and what it supports. Again, witness advanced the argument that his work studied same-sex relationships and not orientation.

The University of Texas Department of Sociology has issued a public disclaimer that Dr. Regnerus has personal opinions, and the opinions he advances are his own and not the opinion of the department. The American Sociological Association has published a similar disclaimer.

double-standard.jpgWhen asked about divorce rates in the US, Regnerus was not able to provide any information. He did say that same-sex couples in a legal marriage would be more likely to be stable and not break up. He stated that, overall, African-American couples and interracial couples divorce at a higher rate, but he would not favor banning marriages to these groups.

Witness had testified [yesterday] on direct that "diminished kinships" -- one or both parents without a genetic connection to the child -- increases the risk for the child. But he does not disfavor re-marriage if the first marriage ends in divorce or death. Regnerus believes it's more sympathetic if the prior spouse died rather than as a result of divorce.

He did not favor using donor eggs or sperm for married opposite-sex couples, but did not believe it should be prohibited. He agreed that a planned child of a same-sex couple is not subject to the same family disruption as a child who is the product of an opposite-sex marriage that then breaks up. But based on the "reduced kinship" theory, the genetic components of a same-sex couple with a donor-conceived child is more similar to a step-parent opposite-sex couple.

Adoption with no kinship is a concession by the state, and necessary. Regnerus has no opinion as to whether or not a child in foster care should be adopted by a lesbian or gay person or if the child would be better or worse off by being adopted by both adults in the couple or only one person.

He states that sexual relationships outside of a married man and woman are wrong. His alumni profile (from 10 years ago) states: "If your faith matters it should inform what you teach and what you research."

"I've had students here who tell me I'm the only Christian professor they've had," Regnerus said. "My worldview colors what I do in the classroom... That's why I want my students to recognize the connection between my faith and my work."

He discussed his contact and work with Luis Tellez and Maggie Gallagher of the Witherspoon Institute, and Brad Wilcox who introduced them. His emails with them requested more information about their boundaries and the timeline for publishing the study, and asked them what they wanted the study to look like. Regnerus refers to a "coalition."

Tellez told Regnerus to "Move on it, don't dilly-dally... It would be great to have this before a major decision by the Supreme Court." Ultimately, the paper was sent for publishing before all of the data was in, and just before the deadline for the last publication prior to the Windsor decision. The article was cited in the witness's amicus brief to the Supreme Court.

Regnerus presented the NFSS at a meeting of the Heritage Foundation, and they responded by sending him a media training document. He could not remember if he read the talking points but testified that he "largely ignored it."

He stated that his study of straight men shows that support for same-sex marriage may be, in part, a result of increased exposure to porn.


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