Saturday, March 22, 2014

On Michigan, Marriage, Mark Regnerus, and Same-Sex Parenting

In response to my post yesterday about the Michigan defeat for children's rights (here), I received a number of messages from people who were nonplussed that I seemed to be declaring that the fight for traditional marriage was over.

Especially distressing to some people was what they viewed as my abandoning Mark Regnerus, the Texas sociologist who was thoroughly defamed in a court decision written by an obviously unprofessional and biased judge.

Let me clarify and respond here:

First, Mark Regnerus's work was exceedingly important and I do not endorse, nor do I deem acceptable, the attacks on him by people who have engaged in widespread academic negligence.

Mark Regnerus, along wtih Loren Marks and Douglas Allen, played an important role in debunking a false and dangerous "consensus" that had been thrown around by gay rights advocates for twenty years.

As I stated three months ago in this post, the legal arguments based on a "consensus" about same-sex parenting put forward by groups like the American Sociological Association and the American Psychiatric Association are critically deficient. The studies they cite do not meet the basic standards of their own disciplines, as Loren Marks pointed out quite clearly in Social Science Research in July 2012. We've gone over this a million times.

Important here are two commonsense concepts: Conflict of interest and due diligence. I speak here not as a lawyer, which I am not, but as a citizen and human being.

Conflicts of Interest

All of the groups that have filed briefs stating that kids of gay parents have no "disadvantages" use purposefully vague terms and rest upon the testimony of people with blatant conflicts of interest; moreover, the growing number of testimonies from such adult children who are critical of same-sex parenting have been routinely ignored and even treated with animus.

Obviously, adoption professional associations that stand to earn billions from sperm banking, surrogacy, and adoption on demand by opening up a huge market of gay couples wanting to be parents, cannot be trusted to issue a truthful assessment -- that's basic "conflict of interest" understood in everyday life. 

I am not allowed to testify before Congress on the desirability of a bridge if I work for the construction company that's been commissioned to build the bridge. Why on Earth, if I am an adoption attorney able to earn $50,000 in legal fees on every child I place with a gay couple, should I or my association be trusted to testify that gay couples should be allowed to adopt?


Similarly, the medical, pediatric, and psychiatric associations are completely inappropriate sources on which to base a legal ruling that children don't need a mom and dad, for three basic reasons:

1) Medical professionals can attest to the absence of greater incidences of health problems like rubella or leukemia among kids of same-sex couples, but this doesn't encompass all "disadvantages." There are values to a mom and dad that can't be quantified, especially at such a low threshold. (Moreover, if you scroll down a bit, I present important data about why we cannot even trust these basic claims of no medical difference.)

2) Pediatricians are focused on childhood health, but denial of a mother and father is an action that affects a person for their entire life, and affects their children. It is essentially a unilateral amputation of a person's heritage -- and people have fought wars over patrimony. Dr. Smith may notice that lesbians' kids have the same rate of ringworm as other people's kids, but that's not the point and never was. In fact, most critical testimonies from children of gay parents point to the fact that their angst sets in, typically, in their twenties and later. We know from the adoption activist community that many of the problems with having a doctored birth certificate set in later, when adults want to reconstitute their family tree for their own sake and for their children. Their legal troubles obtaining passports and driver licenses are also issues that set in when they are in their late teens, not when they are children.

3) The American Psychiatric Association is unreliable because (a) this same organization used to classify homosexuality as a mental illness and (b) its expertise, again, lies in diagnosing mental health disorders. Do children of same-sex couples need to manifest alarming mental health disorders in order to prove that they lost something by being denied a mom or dad? Why are we trusting an organization whose structure and methodology arrived at a conclusion about homosexuality that is universally seen now as erroneous?

Due diligence

Then we have to look at the problem of the academic associations, in fields like sociology, that have claimed "no difference" between children of same-sex couples and children of heterosexual couples. 
There is a concept known as due diligence. This means that we must engage in skeptical scrutiny of things that look suspicious, even if we do not have the capacity to prove that our suspicions are correct. When the fate of children -- who are dependent on our decisions as adults -- is at stake, we must err on the side of caution rather than jump into reckless decisions based on unexamined assumptions.

So what is suspicious?

1) First, it is highly suspicious that studies into same-sex parenting generate a similar "no difference" hypothesis even though we know that the death of a parent, divorce, adoption, and third-party reproduction do cause different outcomes in children, when those aspects are studied outside the label of same-sex parenting. The only way that a same-sex couple can raise a child, is if there was the death of an opposite-sex parent, a divorce or breakup of a heterosexual couple, an adoption, or some kind of third-party reproduction. And on all these latter family issues, the social-science record is clear. Children grieve for dead parents for their whole lives. Divorce has catastrophic effects on children. Adoptees are almost four times more likely to commit suicide and reveal a host of other difficult outcomes. Children of sperm donors were revealed to have many more adjustments problems in a huge 2010 study that was commented on, by Elizabeth Marquardt. And now research into children of surrogacy contracts shows that they have greater levels of depression, disruptive development, and even higher rates of some forms of cancer. Then there is research into the Cinderella Effect, which finds that the highest indicator of risk for abuse of children is the presence of a non-genetically related guardian in the home.

How is it possible that hundreds upon hundreds of studies into same-sex parenting find that when gay parents are involved, none of these family dynamics produce differential outcomes?

I hate to tell you, but it's not possible. Which brings us to #2 below.

2) We cannot trust research findings if we know that researchers who find contrary data are subject to duress and professional reprisal. This is a basic precept of academic research -- even if the researchers don't say so openly, if we know that they are aware of likely endangerment to their careers should they find a certain outcome, we must reject their data as tainted. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign have a history of compiling lists of people they deem "unacceptable" as commentators in public life. While many Americans know about what happened with Phil Robertson or Dan Cathy of Chick Fil-A, fewer know that they have gotten their hands dirty in academy, where it is dangerous because they have distorted the research apparatus on which so many expert testimonies depend. GLAAD has gone after me and the HRC has waged a massive media campaign against Mark Regnerus. GLAAD, for instance, was cited by queer students at Stanford University who wanted to stop me from giving a keynote. The Human Rights Campaign set up a website called "The Regnerus Fallout" with names and pictures of individuals they defame for supporting Mark Regnerus's work. Despite the fact that the most exhaustive investigation of any same-sex parenting study was carried out on Mark Regnerus's work at the behest of gay activists, and that study found no basis for disqualifying Regnerus's work, both GLAAD and HRC continue to agitate with the specific purpose of harming people professionally if they show any respect toward Regnerus's findings. Seeing what happens to researchers who find data contrary to the consensus, we cannot therefore trust the consensus. It isn't a consensus if you've merely made it a punishable offense to find things that disagree with the consensus.

3) There are human subject testing regulations that make it virtually impossible to find negative outcomes in children. I know from dealing with the Research & Grants division of Cal State University that you must get your research project approved before conducting any questionnaires or interviews. You are not allowed to ask subjects questions that might cause them emotional or mental distress. Therefore when you are questioning children still living with same-sex couples, you cannot ask them anything that might distress them or alienate them from their guardians. So what types of questions does that exclude? PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING. Moreover, confidentiality governs attorney-client and therapist-patient relationships, so it is impossible to access the details of domestic dynamics in homes with gay parents. Then, in the United States, there is the Family Educational Rights to Privacy Act of 1974, which makes it illegal to release academic information about children's performance in school. Here is what researchers are left with:

  • They can pose questions to the parents or pose questions to children that the parents approve of. The parents are not going to be unbiased in this.
  • They can wait until children become adults and then ask them general questions about their life outcomes. Doug Allen and Mark Regnerus did this, and came up with the negative outcomes that are being attacked.
  • They can pose innocuous, extremely general questions. This is what has been done in almost all the research into same-sex parenting. It's why I say the metrics are vague and useless.
  • They can use, as case studies, events that become public record, such as news stories where FOIA allows us to find out things that would have otherwise been hidden. This is how we have compiled information about abusers such as Mark Newton and Frank Lombard.

The question about denying a child a mom or dad has to be answered through the lens of history, philosophy, and culture. The social sciences seek to quantify such "outcomes" but cannot get beyond that point.

It is for these reasons that I see Mark Regnerus, Doug Allen, and Loren Marks as heroic and important assets within the field of social-science research--but ultimately the solution going forward is not to continue relying on their work; rather, our side has to commission research that is humanities-based, existential, and less rooted in statistics.

My criticism of our side of the debate is that they tried to fight fire with fire  -- i.e., fight social science with social science. In the end, it all become one indistinguishable inferno.

So how do I view the gay marriage fight?

I still maintain that it will be easier to protect kids from the excesses of gay parenting, if gay marriage does not become legalized countrywide. But this is a matter of degree and realistically, moreover, it's unlikely we can stop gay marriage.

My view is that the end of the gay marriage debate needs to be a beginning of a new discourse, one that will move beyond gay issues and place children at the center of discussion anyway.

I hope that clears things up.