Regnerus Shoots His Own Foot

Mark Regnerus has gotten a lot of flack lately for publicly criticizing a positive Australian report on same-sex parenting, a classic example of the pot calling the kettle incompetent. Hidden in his critique, though, is a little nugget that deserves more attention.

Midway through, Regnerus flogs his notions about the instability of same-sex couples, but then tries to substantiate them by linking to research that proves him wrong — and in doing so, brings to light a study that we should all have bookmarked.

So…thanks, Mark!

A bit of background. We lambasted Regnerus, of course, for presenting his famous study as research into same-sex parenting even though he did not specify outcomes for kids raised by same-sex parents, mostly because he hardly studied any kids raised by same-sex parents. His defense was that grown-up kids like that are hard to find because families like that seem to be unstable, and then he turned this alleged instability into further criticism of same-sex parenting.

He pushes this theme again in his recent critique:

Children fare better in an environment of household stability. In the NFSS, stability was largely absent when an adult child reported a parental same-sex relationship. Hence, their life experiences were (on average) notably more challenging than those of their peers with married mothers and fathers. Some critics felt this was an “unfair” comparison. But if social reality is unfair, there’s not much that any sociologist can do about that.

And also:

But will same-sex parents’ relationships be more or less stable in the future? On the one hand, we know that same-sex relationships in general—across multiple datasets—remain more fragile than opposite-sex ones (and to be fair, no group is performing all that well).

That link is in his original, and with that link we strike gold.

It leads to an abstract of a research paper by Stanford professor Michael Rosenfeld called, “Couple Longevity and Formal Unions in the Era of Same-sex Marriage in the United States.” I was surprised by the last sentence of that abstract:

I hypothesize that the higher relationship instability that was reported for same-sex couples in the past was due in part to the lack of options for union formalization available to same-sex couples in the past.

If true, that would actually undercut Regnerus’ argument. Since he linked to this paper, though, I expected to find the hypothesis debunked. But I found the full text and, my, was I surprised. Check this out. It’s worth reading carefully.

In this paper I show that while same-sex couples in the US are more likely to break up than heterosexual couples (Hypothesis 1), the difference in couple longevity is explained by the lower rate of marriage among same-sex couples. Once marriage (and marriage-like unions) are controlled for, same-sex couples and heterosexual couples have statistically indistinguishable rates of break-up, confirming Hypothesis 2 ["that same-sex couples and heterosexual couples would have similar rates of break-up once marriage was controlled for"]. Despite the fact that none of the same-sex couples in the US in the 2009-2012 period enjoyed the same legal benefits and federal recognition as heterosexual married couples (because of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996), the association between marriage and couple stability was similar for same-sex couples and for heterosexual couples, confirming Hypothesis 3 ["Marriage has a similar positive association with couple longevity for same-sex couples and for heterosexual couples"].

Emphasis added.

That’s great stuff. It not only demolishes an anti-gay talking point, but also wipes out the many arguments built on that talking point. For years, anti-gays have been spouting irrelevant nonsense like Homosexual relationships generally last only a fraction of the time that most marriages last.” Irrelevant nonsense, because even for heterosexuals, relationships are shorter on average than marriages. In fact, from an arithmetic geek’s perspective, if you have just one pre-marital relationship that’s shorter than your marriage, then your average relationship will last only a fraction of the time of your marriage.

But this Regnerus-recommended paper goes further than that. It doesn’t just knock down nonsense arguments. No, it establishes an affirmative case for the stability of same-sex marriages, and thus for same-sex parenting.

I still have to wonder, though: why did Regnerus link to a study that establishes the opposite of what he’s trying to claim? It’s easy to assume he’s just lying, hoping no one investigates his link, but I always keep a few wonderful quotes in mind:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Along with:

You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity

And this wonderful variation on Clarke’s Third Law:

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

I mean, come on — even the abstract the appears when you click Regnerus’ link is enough to raise suspicion that he’s missed the target. My best guess is that he seized on the first sentence in the quote I provided, and found himself so tangled in confirmation bias that he completely missed what followed, even though what followed is the crucial piece of information when it comes to evaluating same-sex families (i.e., marriage and marriage-like unions).

At this point it looks like Regnerus has so thoroughly ruined his scientific credibility that he’s gone into denial over it, and now lives in a self-imposed Dunning-Kruger inability to recognize his own incompetence. Not because he’s inherently stupid, but because a rigorous intelligence would threaten his last bastion of support.

However, even this man’s small tragedy has produced some good. Bookmark that Stanford study, and be ready to offer it up as Regnerus-approved proof that Regnerus is wrong.

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6 comments to Regnerus Shoots His Own Foot

  • 1
    Dick Mills says:

    Good catch! Basically Regnerus averaged the lengths of every relationship that gay people have ever had, and then compared that apple to the orange that is only the length of the marriage that heterosexuals had. That is blatantly dishonest.

  • 2
    StraightGrandmother says:

    Thank Rob. we recall that it was primarily the testimony of Dr.Michael Rosenfeld that destroyed Regners/Marks/Price/Allen in the Michigan Trial.

    Another article Regnerus wrote for National Review recently whe he says “Good News, viewers gays than we thought” I had to laugh at. Remember how he swore by his data and survey company? In fact Rosenfeld uses the same company. I am on an iPad so I don’t have all my bookmarks or else I would give you the link but if you go to his code book on the New Familes Structures Study he shows every question and the number of responses to each question. If memory serves like 20% of his survey respondents reported something other than Completely Straight.

    Joe My God ran an article on the Regnerus National Review article and in comments a person from Baltimore commented that he took part in the govt survey. He said a real person comes to your house and interviews you in person and although he felt comfortable with the interviewer he said he could easily see how others would not feel comfortable saying anything other than Straight.

    Also did you read the latest on Dr. Phillip Cohen’s blog, Family Inequality? The article about the new e-mail gotten through a Freedom of Information Act request that shows the Editor of the Journal that published Regners Lied?

  • 3
    Spunky says:

    So much to say about this. You covered a lot, Rob. Nice work.

    1) Regnerus doesn’t really dispute the ACHESS results. He doesn’t seem shocked by the results and doesn’t really spend any amount of time arguing why the chosen same-sex parents are less fit to raise children. His hyperbolic analogy to rich Evangelical Christian parents confirms this, as though he wants the reader to think, “well of of course rich same-sex parents raise their children well.” He only devotes one paragraph to the “social desirability bias” theory, and even then, he even admits the difference was more modest than he expected.

    Would he admit then that these 500 parents who were studied, these above-average parents in above-average situations, should be allowed to marry/adopt/artificially inseminate? If not, then he hasn’t provided a reason.

    2) After all these years and all the bad press, he still says things like,

    If you’ve been paying attention, however, you’ll know that my NFSS studies—which mapped 248 respondents who told us their mother or father had been in a same-sex relationship—came to rather different conclusions than the ACHESS study has.

    This dishonest, half-true, I’m-not-explicitly-saying-same-sex-parents-are-the-same-as-a-parent-who-at-some-point-had-a-same-sex-relationship-but-I’m-acting-like-they’re-the-same reasoning is bullshit at this point. He’s turned into more of an anti-gay pundit than a researcher at this point. What a waste.

    For years, when everyone was trashing Regnerus’ study, I took a more neutral stance, saying that while he deceptively advertised it, there was some good to come from it. No more. I cannot take his views or research seriously given his repeated dishonest tactics. I should have known better.

  • 4
    tavdy79 says:

    In this paper I show that while same-sex couples in the US are more likely to break up than heterosexual couples (Hypothesis 1), the difference in couple longevity is explained by the lower rate of marriage among same-sex couples. Once marriage (and marriage-like unions) are controlled for, same-sex couples and heterosexual couples have statistically indistinguishable rates of break-up

    – Michael Rosenfeld

    I noticed that the data Prof. Rosenfeld used were from the USA. It’s worth contrasting them with some UK statistics from 2011.

    According to PinkNews, data from the ONS (the UK quango responsible for official statistics) showed that 5.5% of opposite-sex marriages ended in divorce within five years, while only 2.5% same-sex civil partnerships ended in dissolution within the same time-frame.

    This suggests that (within Britain at least) opposite-sex relationships are not only less stable than same-sex ones, they’re actually more than twice as likely to end in divorce within a relatively short period. This is the precise opposite of Regnerus’s claims.

  • 5
    Brian says:

    tavdy79, I wonder if that’s because so many same-sex couples who are recently married are not at the beginning of a relationship, but already in well-established long-term relationships.

  • 6

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