Just as many LGBT people and allies feared, Regnerus’ flawed study on parenting has just been misused in an Amicus Brief opposing equal rights for same-sex couples.
In California, Lambda Legal is representing a woman in a legal, same-sex marriage who was denied spousal benefits by her employer because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The case is currently before the 9th Circuit, where more background and the relevant briefs and filings can be found.
The American College of Pediatricians is a socially-conservative group that has self-published a variety of position papers opposing “the promotion of homosexuality in schools,” touting the “considerable risks to children exposed to the homosexual lifestyle” in part because of an alleged increase risk of violence in same-sex households, and ironically, promoting the infliction of physical violence upon children for disciplinary purposes. The organization should not be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In their Amicus Brief to the 9th Circuit, the American College of Pediatricians breathlessly reports (PDF):
“The court below did not have at its disposal access to the most current research on child outcomes for children raised by same-sex couples [sic]. A brand new study in the peer-reviewed journal <i>Social Science Research</i> uses a large random national sample to assess these outcomes…. It looked at ‘social behaviors,health behaviors, and relationships’ comparing child outcomes (as reported by the adult children rather than by those who raised them) among various groups including married biological parents (labeled as IBF for “intact biological family’) and children raised by same-sex couples [sic] (labeled LM for lesbian mothers [sic] and GF for gay fathers [sic]).”
The organization then goes on to report the negative outcomes of children, in their erroneous words, “raised by two women.” This reference is in service of their broader support of DOMA, and their argument that research shows that children raised by same-sex couples have “differences that do not bode well for children.”
As I have written before, and has been widely reported and acknowledged, Regnerus’ study is not not NOT about “same-sex parents” or “same-sex couples.” It is, in Regnerus’ own words, a study that compares:
“how the young-adult children of a parent who has had a same-sex romantic relationship fare on 40 different social, emotional, and relational outcome variables when compared with six other family-of-origin types.” [emphasis added]
Note the difference. A parent who has ever had a same-sex relationship is not necessarily a parent who is part of a same-sex couple or who raised a child with a same-sex partner. It is inaccurate, therefore, for the College of Pediatricians to claim that the study is looking at children “raised by same-sex couples.”
Unfortunately, Regnerus contributes to the confusion by, within the study, calling parents who have ever had a same-sex relationship while raising a child a “same-sex household,” and calling such parents, no matter their actual sexual orientation “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers.” While he may not have been acting in bad faith, his inaccurate, imprecise, and- yes- irresponsible labeling does lend itself quite easily to misuse and misinterpretation.
I know that some have argued that the best way to counter a flawed study is for a different study to come along and rebut it, but I hope people who argue that can understand how frustrating it is to have to sit tight and, in the meantime, monitor how political groups are mis-using this study. The Regnerus study is out there in the public forum now, and in a peer-reviewed journal. Groups, especially those with anti-equality agendas, are going to continue to cite it, misuse, and misinterpret it.
So, I’m left wondering, how many more of these posts am I, and other LGBT people and allies, going to have to write in clarification and rebuttal? Is it really my job, or the job of any other LGBT person, to make sure people are using studies fairly and honestly, or do researchers, organizations, adults in a purportedly civil society contributing to the public discourse have any ethical or moral responsibility to be fair and honest in their use of research?
In the past, researchers have spoken up instances of their research being misused and/or misinterpreted for political purposes.
In this case, would it be the responsible course of action for Regnerus to acknowledge and denounce this misuse/misinterpretation of his research, especially given its admitted flaws?