How Is Michigan Defending Its Gay Marriage Ban? With Pseudoscience Aplenty

March 5, 2014 by Justin Lehmiller


There are currently more than two dozen legal challenges to gay marriage bans working their way through the U.S. court system. In several of those cases, state attorneys have refused to defend such bans on grounds that they represent discrimination. In cases where attorneys have continued to defend these bans, not only has the credibility of the witnesses become more questionable, but the arguments against same-sex marriage have become more tenuous. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Michigan these past few days. First, in an embarrassing blow to the Attorney General’s case, it was revealed on Monday that the state’s first witness had been barred from testifying because he was a graduate student and therefore not an expert with the necessary credentials and experience to contribute to the case. So who else does Michigan have lined up to defend the ban? The most high profile remaining witness is Mark Regnerus, a sociologist from the University of Texas at Austin. Regnerus’ claim to fame is a poorly executed 2012 study previously covered on this blog that essentially concluded that same-sex couples make inept parents. However, Regnerus’ methods and conclusions were so questionable that his own academic department recently put out the following statement distancing itself from him:

Like all faculty, Dr. Regnerus has the right to pursue his areas of research and express his point of view. However, Dr. Regnerus’ opinions are his own. They do not reflect the views of the Sociology Department of The University of Texas at Austin. Nor do they reflect the views of the American Sociological Association, which takes the position that the conclusions he draws from his study of gay parenting are fundamentally flawed on conceptual and methodological grounds and that findings from Dr. Regnerus’ work have been cited inappropriately in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LBGTQ partners and their families. We encourage society as a whole to evaluate his claims.

It’s pretty bad when your colleagues have to put out a press release saying that your research is flawed and that they don’t believe in it. So what was wrong with Regnerus’ study and his conclusion that children are better off when raised by heterosexual parents than gay parents? The main issue is that he did not study children who were born or adopted into stable families headed by same-sex couples. The “same-sex parents” he studied actually consisted of individuals who originally had a child in the context of a male-female relationship, but one of those individuals later had at least one same-sex sexual experience. In other words, we’re talking about cases where a male-female couple got divorced or separated and one of the partners “came out” afterward–probably not the image you had in mind for a typical “same-sex family,” right?

So what happens when you look at studies in which an actual gay or lesbian couple has a child? You see that those children do just as well as children raised by heterosexual parents. Yep—no difference. In fact, there is a wealth of research along these lines contradicting Regnerus’ findings, but this is someone for whom the facts just don’t seem to matter.

The fact that Michigan has given Regnerus a platform to continue spreading misinformation is undoubtedly unfortunate; however, it has cast a national spotlight on the fact that the primary arguments left against legalizing same-sex marriage are based in pseudoscience. If anything, arguments this flimsy could ultimately hasten the arrival of marriage equality.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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