Mark Regnerus is a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin, which is a top-flight school. By contrast, Regnerus has had a crash-and-burn reputation. Up until recently, his fame has rested on his claims that gay parenting was destructive to children.
Although his research was easily revealed to be a combination of cherry-picked statistics and misinterpretations, Regnerus became the go-to expert for right-wing lawyers to wheel into court to challenge gay parenting rights. After testifying in a trial to stop marriage equality in Michigan, Regnerus took such a hit to his reputation that it seemed likely he would stay out of the limelight forever.
No such luck. Last year, Regnerus came back, publishing a book about the perils of Cheap Sex (conveniently, the book’s title). Based on research Regnerus conducted, the book argues that technology has so abased sexual interactions that it threatens to harm human relationships and societal structures.
Amazingly, given Regnerus’s notoriety as a researcher willing to allow his religious belief (conservative Catholicism) to bend his scholarship, he’s largely gotten a pass from the media. Instead, his book is often reviewed and discussed without mention of his questionable past. New York Magazine, the Austin Monthly and The Atlantic have all talked about (or with) Regnerus as if he’s a scholar with a pristine reputation. He is not.
Regnerus generally avoids talking about gay relationships in the book, other than to say dating problems may lead women to “experiment” with lesbian relationships, as if they involved test tubes and a Bunsen burner. But just because he’s mostly silent on the topic doesn’t mean that he should get a pass on it.
Regnerus was willing to produce junk science that helped condemn gay people. He’s not coming to the topic of human sexuality without a distinct cultural point of view.
In fairness to Regnerus, his research this time around might be sound. He didn’t get to the University of Texas by being a lousy sociologist. But his own department distanced himself from him for his gay parenting study.
It’s not only fair to ask how his current book is shaped by his personal beliefs. It’s also necessary for readers to know that Regnerus has a clouded past when it comes to talking about human sexuality.
You would think that his previous excursion into the public realm would be well worth noting. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.