The backers of a flawed, but widely cited academic study critical of gay relationships and their impact on children of gay parents, choreographed its release in time to influence “major decisions of the Supreme Court,” according to documents obtained by The American Independent.
The study, published in June 2012 and completed by Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology, was widely denounced by LGBT advocacy groups to its claims that “adult children of gay parents reported significantly different, and often worse, life experiences than the children of married, heterosexual biological parents.”
The study was funded with a $695,000 grant from the Witherspoon Institute and a $90,000 grant from the conservative Bradley Foundation — the Witherspoon Institute was founded by Princeton professor Robert P. George, who was the founding chairman of the notoriously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.
According to The American Independent, the Witherspoon Institute recruited Regnerus to carry out a study that was designed to manipulate public policy. In communicating with donors about the research project, Luis Tellez, Witherspoon’s president, clearly expected results unfavorable to the gay marriage movement.
“The think tank’s efforts paid off. The “New Family Structures Study” came out just in time for opponents of gay marriage to cite it in multiple federal cases involving marriage equality – including two cases soon to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,” reported The American Independent.
So far, the New Family Structures Study has been cited in United States v. Windsor, a challenge to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which seeks to overturn California’s gay-marriage ban, Proposition 8.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently filed a “friend of the court” brief in Perry, arguing that, “A mother and father each bring something unique and irreplaceable to child-rearing that the other cannot.” The brief said that Regnerus’ study found “that children raised by married biological parents fared better in a range of significant outcomes than children raised in same-sex households.”
But the term “same-sex households” is misleading. The study effectively compared families with two always-married straight parents to some families who only had one parent but were characterized as households headed by gay fathers or lesbian mothers.
In a brief submitted last year in Windsor by the Republican-controlled Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the U.S. House of Representatives – which is helping to defend DOMA – the group referenced the study when arguing that the lesbian plaintiff in that case “does not, because she cannot, deny the existence of our bedrock cultural assumption that, when possible, children should be raised by their own biological mother and father.”
The study also has been cited in gay-marriage cases beyond those taken up by the Supreme Court. In August, a federal judge cited the New Family Structures Study in upholding Hawaii’s ban on gay marriage.
Plaintiffs and advocates involved with some of the cases in which the study has been cited as evidence to support bans on gay marriage are pointing out its many flaws.
Regnerus’ own professional organization, the American Sociological Association, recently filed an amicus brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry, arguing that his study “provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes.”
Jennifer C. Pizer, senior counsel and director of the Law and Policy Project at the LGBT-rights legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, said she is not surprised to learn that the study’s funders had an agenda when financing this research. But what is more important, she said, is that the study is being used to support conclusions it did not find.