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Parenthood Debate Obscures The Real Questions

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

"It's Time for Mark Regnerus to Get Collectively Dumped," read one online headline. The outrage was in response to a study that Regnerus, a professor in the department of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, released earlier this summer. His crime? Doing research on the effects of same-sex parenting on children. The shamelessness of the blogosphere's eruption turned outrageous when an activist in New York wrote to the university, accusing Regnerus of "using misinformation in an attempt to hurt others," prompting the university to open an ethics investigation.


Reading the whole of Regnerus' work, one doesn't get the impression he wants to hurt people. As a social scientist, he looks at the evidence. His New Family Structures Study, while supported and welcomed by advocates of traditional marriage, wasn't exactly made to order. Though the study's findings suggest that young-adult children of parents who have been involved in same-sex relationships are may have a heightened susceptibility to emotional and social problems, Regnerus took pains to be fair. "The political take-home message of the NFSS ... is unclear," Regnerus writes.

"On the one hand, the instability detected in the NFSS could translate into a call for extending the relative security afforded by marriage to gay and lesbian couples. On the other hand, it may suggest that (instability) ... is just too common among same-sex couples to take the social gamble of spending significant political and economic capital" on supporting them, he writes. Sounds more like a scientist than an activist.

But therein lies the reason for the anger this study has roused: The evidence, incomplete and imperfect as it is, points to the stability of a male-female, married model. And that's a threat to certain parties.

The marriage-overhaul movement asserts that there is a scientific consensus that doesn't quite exist. "One argument propelling the judicial activism to redefine marriage is that it makes no difference whether a child is raised by same-sex parents instead of a traditional, married mother and father," Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic-policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, points out.


Obviously, there is not a strong body of research on same-sex parenting, given it's a social experiment in an embryonic stage. Some would like to keep investigation and reflection away from the march of ideology into the lives of children.

The fury this study has elicited from the left hits on a key question: In a culture that claims to so often value tolerance above all other values, do we tolerate non-sexual-revolutionary values when it comes to issues of marriage and family?

This is all part of a trend toward the marginalization of religion that we have seen most notably in the debate over that pernicious Department of Health and Human Services mandate, wherein religious institutions and employers are being told that practicing their faith is illegal if it involves not purchasing or offering insurance plans that include contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drug coverage.

At a time when a trilogy about sadomasochism is all the literary rage, surely there's room for a little love and marriage and the baby carriage" somewhere in our culture? And for asking whether there might be sociological advantages to this approach?

Let's take a deep breath, and really look at some of the most heated rhetoric accusing Catholics or Republicans or a social scientist in Texas of waging a "war on women" or some other kind of supposedly hurtful or hateful cause. These are the questions we should be raising. Do we tolerate questioning the effects of our sexual choices, and even about the purpose of sex, in the public square? Do we care enough about the welfare of children to have a robust scientific, cultural, moral and political debate?


In a recent interview, Elton John talked about his son, born of a surrogate in California and conceived with a donated egg, that he has with his longtime male partner. Said John: "It's going to be heartbreaking for him to grow up and realize he hasn't got a mummy."

Thank you, Sir Elton, for opening a door. Now can we let Professor Regnerus get back to work?


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