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In an article published on September 16, 2013 at AtlanticWire, discredited sociologist Mark Regnerus whines that his fraudulent study that was funded by the anti-gay Witherspoon Institute to smear the parenting skills of gay and lesbian parents is now being used by Russian legislators to justify anti-gay legislation. The essay comes in response to a September 5 news story in AtlanticWire by Alexander Abad-Santos, which documented the fact that Regnerus's work has influenced a draft bill that would mandate the removal of children from the custody of homosexual parents. But whine or not, Regnerus cannot escape the consequences of his unethical conduct.
As Abad-Santos's article pointed out, the new bill, authored by Andrei Zhuravlyov, uses the Regnerus study to allege that "gay parenting distorts a child's sexual orientation and increases suicidal tendencies, social ineptitude and risks of catching venereal disease." Abad-Santos concluded that "The bill's mere introduction is a clear-as-day sign that [Russia's] anti-gay climate will only grow more oppressive, even if the bill meets a well-deserved death in forthcoming legislative sessions."
In response, Regnerus claims that Zhuravlyov misuses his study. He says that "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." He goes on to denounce the Russian bill for injecting instability in "children's lives by categorically stripping mothers and fathers of their rights as biological parents."
While one should welcome anyone's opposition to the ugly bigotry represented by the Russian bill, it is more than a little ironic to have Regnerus object to the political misuse of sociological data. After all, his study, "How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-sex Relationships? Findings from the New Families Structure Study," published in June 2012 in Social Science Research, was itself concocted for purely ideological reasons.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act recently confirmed long-held suspicions that the Regnerus study was funded in order to impugn the parenting skills of same-sex couples in judicial proceedings. The documents, obtained by indefatigable researcher Scott Rose and activist John Becker, reveal that the Witherspoon Institute enlisted Regnerus to undertake the study in order to influence anticipated Supreme Court deliberations on same-sex marriage.
Regnerus's article purported to prove that children of gay and lesbian parents have adverse outcomes. It claimed to find "numerous, consistent differences, especially between children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents."
Sociologists immediately pointed out flaws in Regnerus's methodology and in his manipulation of data. Instead of comparing "same-sex families" and "opposite-sex families," he compared broken families to intact families. Moreover, his data was skewed to lead to a predictable conclusion: his allegedly gay and lesbian parents are disproportionately poor and divorced. Moreover, the huge majority of the children of parents who had a same-sex relationship at some time in their lives never actually lived in a same-sex headed household.
However, Regnerus's article, dressed up in the accoutrement of scholarship, was never intended to be real scholarship. It was designed with a specific political goal in sight: to justify the denial equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.
Although Regnerus's study was immediately denounced by reputable sociologists and repudiated by the auditor of Social Science Research, it was eagerly embraced by the opponents of same-sex marriage and was prominently cited in legal briefs submitted to the Supreme Court by the defenders of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
It is difficult to know why Regnerus has suddenly decided to denounce the uses of the study in the draft bill pending in Russia's Duma. He did not denounce the misrepresentation of the study by the National Organization for Marriage and right-wing American groups and columnists. Nor did he denounce the use of the study by French extremists during the bitter debate on same-sex marriage in France. He also said not a peep when his study was cited to justify the Russian "anti-propaganda" bill that has incited such violence since its enactment.
Perhaps he has decided that it may not be a good career move to be too closely associated with the anti-gay pogrom currently underway in Russia.
But, denunciation or not, Regnerus is nevertheless very much implicated in the anti-gay legislation and the terror and heartache it has already inspired. Regnerus and the Witherspoon Institute and the National Organization for Marriage and other right-wing organizations that promoted the hoax he perpetrated have blood on their hands.
Russian homophobia has a long and ugly history and is closely aligned with Russian nationalism, but Regnerus's junk science has offered Russian homophobes cover, allowing legislators like Andrei Zhuravlyov to defend their bigotry with the excuse that they are simply following the latest Western sociological insights.
Try as he may, Regnerus cannot escape the legacy of his unethical conduct.