Whose Kids Are All Right?

June 22, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Miscellaneous thoughts on the Regnerus study.

1.    Oranges and apples.  This study is not about the effects of gay marriage.  Opponents of gay marriage trying to cram it into that cubbyhole apparently have not read the title: “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.” [emphasis added]

Who are these “parents who have same-sex relationships”?  They are not gay couples (there were only two of those in the sample, both female).  The image I get is the closeted homosexual trying to do the right thing, maybe even “cure” himself, by getting married.  The cure doesn’t work and he is now in an unhappy, unfulfilling marriage, but he stays because of the kids.  Eventually, he gives in to his desires, has a “same-sex relationship,” and maybe leaves his family.  

Is this scenario common in Regnerus’s sample?  I don’t know.  But to make gay parent vs. straight parent comparisons on the basis of the sample with only two gay couples is to compare these unhappily married oranges with Ozzie-and-Harriet apples.  As Regnerus’s defenders delicately put it, “This is not an ideal comparison.”

2.    Secondary deviance.  Edwin Lemert coined this term to refer to deviance that arises as a reaction to the social or legal stigma that comes with the primary deviance.   The crime is primary, the coverup is secondary.  The coverup occurs only because the original act is criminal.  The same applies to non-criminal forms of deviance and to social sanctions rather than legal ones.

Again, the Regnerus defense team: “This instability may well be an artifact of the social stigma and marginalization that often faced gay and lesbian couples during the time (extending back to the 1970s, in some cases) that many of these young adults came of age.” 

3.    Rights and Research.  As Ilana Yurkiewicz at Scientific American says, even if good, relevant research on the topic of gay marriage (which the Regnerus study is not) showed that kids from gay marriages do worse than kids from straight marriages, that’s no reason to deny people the right to marry.

Research has already found such differences between other categories of people – poor vs rich, for example.  Should we deny poor people the right to marry because their kids are less likely to do well in school or more likely to have run-ins with the law?  I would not be surprised if back in the mid-20th century, research would have shown (or perhaps did show) that the children of interracial marriages did not do as well on several variables as did Ozzie-and-Harriet or Cosby-show offspring.  Would that have been a valid reason to uphold laws banning interracial marriage?

4.    Etc.  Philip Cohen is much more qualified than I am to offer criticisms and comments on the study.  You should read his as yet unpublished op-ed.

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