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Matthew Rozsa: Evidence is in: Gay marriage doesn’t hurt children

Matthew Rozsa

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — When I read Ronald Fischer’s recent column opposing gay marriage, I couldn’t help but think of a line in the Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”:

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

It is clear that Fischer started out with the theory that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry, then developed his case to match that opinion (“Focus ‘marriage debates’ on best interests of children,” Page A4, June 19).

While it isn’t my place to speculate as to his motives for doing this, every American has a responsibility to call attention to factual distortions that could deprive their fellow citizens of their civil liberties. Here are Fischer’s.

  •  He uses bad scholarship.

Fischer repeatedly insists that children are better off when raised by their biological mother and father, claiming that “study after study” supports his assertion. Tellingly, though, he doesn’t state precisely how many academic studies draw this conclusion, and only provides one specific example — a 2012 study led by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas (he also mentions the work of Louisiana State University's Loren Marks, which accompanied Regnerus’s study; more about Marks below).

Regnerus' now-notorious study purports to show that gay parents are bad for kids. But Regnerus had a very good reason to reach that conclusion: He was paid handsomely by conservative groups that were openly hoping he would do so. "In meetings hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington in late 2010, opponents of same-sex marriage discussed the urgent need to generate new studies on family structures and children," The New York Times reported earlier this year.

"One result was the marshalling of $785,000 for a large-scale study by Mark Regnerus, a meeting participant and sociologist at the University of Texas."

In finding the “right” results, Regnerus engaged in misleading scholarly practices that an internal audit by Social Science Research — the journal that initially published Regnerus’s paper — determined should have “disqualified it,” such as including only two respondents who had actually lived with a gay couple for their entire childhoods and defining “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” as anyone who had been in a homosexual relationship at any point after having a child.

Because the Regnerus paper is the only official source used by Fischer to suggest that gay parenting hurts children, one has to wonder if Fischer knew the sordid history of that research. If he did, then he was dishonest for citing it without mentioning these details; if he did not, then he loses all credibility as an effective advocate for any evidence-based cause.

  •  He misrepresents the legitimate scholarship on gay parenting.

Fischer actually spends very little time addressing the rest of the research on gay parenting, which, in the words of Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University, has yielded “overwhelming evidence so far that there’s not much difference between children raised by heterosexual or same-sex parents.”

Indeed, all Fischer does is briefly acknowledge a 2005 policy brief by the American Psychological Association, which found that 59 independently-conducted studies had each determined that children raised by homosexual parents were not uniquely disadvantaged.

Then again, while he writes that LSU's Marks “debunks” the APA’s review, he notably fails to summarize or explain Marks’s argument as to why the review was wrong so that readers can judge the rebuttal on its own merits.

What’s more, there has been plenty of research done since 2005. When Judith Stacey of New York University and Tim Bilbarz of the University of Southern California conducted a review in 2010 of every social scientific study published in the United States on gay parenting, they determined that no pattern existed of studies finding gay parents to be any worse than their straight counterparts.

The bottom line is that while those who disapprove of homosexuality are entitled to their opinions, they don’t have the right to force their views on other people. This is not a liberal position or a libertarian or a conservative position; it is the one and only constitutional position.

In the words of Barry Goldwater, the founding father of modern conservatism:

“The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they’re gay. You don’t have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay.”

Rozsa is a graduate student in history at Lehigh University and a political columnist for PolicyMic and other outlets.