Editor's note: Earlier this month, we wrote about how a Russian lawmaker had cited University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus's study on gay parenting as reason to strip custody rights from gay parents. Below, Regnerus, who has discussed his work and its critics at Slate last year, responds to those who would twist his findings for political and ideological purposes.
Policing the uses to which my Social Science Research article on same-sex parenting has been put would be a challenge. Groups from across the political spectrum have struggled over the meaning of its analyses, which documented a variety of differences between those young adults who grew up in a stable, biological family and those who did not—including those who reported a parental same-sex romantic relationship. One Russian lawmaker, however, apparently perceives in the study a reason for stripping some Russians of their parental rights based on knowledge of their homosexual activity.
But such a legislative move would be wrong. Why? Because the study in question, and no shortage of other analyses of population-based data, reaffirm that kinship and stability are important for children. Generating new household instability, via one-size-fits-all legislation poised to sever the parent-child bond, is to overlook these basic conclusions of the study. A comparable treatment is not, I presume, planned against heterosexual stepfamilies, regardless of the extent of the household upheaval and parental relationship drama that may or may not have generated them.
No, to suggest a policy of removing a child from a biological parent is to move well beyond the data, because the sources, or causes, of the group differences I documented are not simple to discern. And I said as much in the original text:
I would be remiss to claim causation here, since to document that having particular family-of-origin experiences—or the sexual relationships of one’s parents—causes outcomes for adult children, I would need to not only document that there is a correlation between such family-of-origin experiences, but that no other plausible factors could be the common cause of any suboptimal outcomes. Rather, my analytic intention is far more modest than that: to evaluate the presence of simple group differences, and—with the addition of several control variables—to assess just how robust such group differences are.
This may come as a surprise to those who have spent the past 15 months tagging my study as discredited or “debunked,” a silly and simplistic moniker given that the data is public and the analyses in the article are rather straightforward. Isn’t it hypocritical to blow the whistle on this use of the data while supporting other such uses, such as my own participation on an amici brief to the U.S. Supreme Court? No, it is not, because I oppose same-sex marriage and lawmaker Andrei Zhuravlyov’s draconian legislation for the same reason: every child has a mother and a father, and such kinship matters for kids. To be stably rooted in your married mother and father’s household is to foster the greatest chance at lifelong flourishing. It’s not necessary, of course. It just has the best odds.
Of course, such kinship ties are often broken, sometimes with intention (by mutual divorce, sperm donation, and some instances of surrogacy), sometimes by accident (as through the death of a parent), and sometimes by necessity (in the case of seeking protection from domestic violence), all through no fault of the child. A good society seeks to discourage broken kinship ties, and to struggle over how to manage those that are unavoidable. It does not respond by simply declaring biological bonds to be irrelevant or such brokenness only imagined.
Nor should a good society support any political project that purports to inject new instability into children’s lives by categorically stripping mothers and fathers of their rights as biological parents, as the Russian Duma is now considering.
Mark Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a senior fellow of the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture.