The new 'evidence' that kids with gay parents fare worse: Fraudulent?

A report claiming that children of gay parents suffer more than children of heterosexual couples is roundly derided as deeply flawed

A boy and his father at a gay pride parade in 2001: A new study that attempts to make a case against gay adoption is drawing criticism for its problematic methodology.
(Image credit: Aristide Economopoulos/Star Ledger/Corbis)

With the number of Americans in support of gay marriage and gay adoption on the rise, a new study claiming that adult children of same-sex parents fare worse socially, psychologically, and physically was sure to spark controversy. And indeed, critics are attacking the study as deeply flawed, arguing that it fails to persuasively counteract the decades of research proving that children of gay and lesbian parents are not disadvantaged in any way. Here, a guide to the new study's findings, and the attacks on its credibility:

What did this study say?

Mark Regenerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, surveyed nearly 3,000 U.S. adults, ages 18 to 39, about their upbringings and current lifestyles. He asked questions about income, relationship stability, mental health, and history of sex abuse, among other things, says ABC News. Respondents who reported having a parent who at some point had a same-sex relationship scored differently than those raised by biological, still-married parents in 25 of the study's 40 measures, and were "more likely to be on welfare, have a history of depression, have less education, and report a history of sexual abuse."

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Why is the study being criticized?

Because it's "fraudulent," says Zack Ford at Think Progress. Respondents were asked whether a parent ever had "a romantic relationship of the same sex," but did not ask whether they were raised by a same-sex couple. Identifying a parent who at some point had a gay relationship "is not the same as identifying a parent who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual in a functional relationship," says Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin. "Had the study actually focused on 'same-sex families,'" it may have been worthwhile, says John Corvino at The New Republic. As it stands, the evidence is "illogical and unfair."

Are there other complaints?

The study was not longitudinal, relying on respondents' memories to answer questions instead of measuring their development over time, says Ford. The respondents also grew up in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, "when same-sex relationships were more heavily stigmatized." Therefore, "the study doesn't really have anything to do with the same-sex families of today," says Dr. Jenna Saul, a child psychologist.

Is the author of the study credible?

Not according to some critics. To begin with, the study was funded by the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, which are "commonly known for their support of conservative causes," says ABC News — though the groups had no part in the study's design and analysis. Study author Regenerus is "a social conservative who writes from an evangelical perspective," says Ford. For his part, Regenerus says that the study "was not intended as a political statement."

And other studies contradict Rengerus' report?

Yes. Detailed, highly regarded studies from the American Psychological Association and the Child Welfare League of America have found no differences between children of same-sex parents and those of heterosexual parents.

What lessons can we learn from this controversy?

Regenerus studied people "who engaged in same-sex relationships — and often broke up their households — decades ago," says William Saletan at Slate. That "doesn't document the failure of same-sex marriage. It documents the failure of the closet, broken, and unstable households that preceded same-sex marriage." The important lesson here, says Ross Douthat at The New York Times, is that "we need fewer broken homes among gays, just as we do among" heterosexuals.

Sources: ABC News, Box Turtle Bulletin, New Republic, NY Times, Slate (2), Think Progress

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