The Sound New Social Science Judges Should Heed

If you are a regular reader of Public Discourse (and if you’re not, you should be!), you will already have seen my two latest contributions there. On Tuesday, in “Mark Regnerus and the Storm Over the New Family Structures Study,” I described the furor that erupted back in June when Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, published the first high-quality, random-sample research of the outcomes of parenting for the children of those who have same-sex relationships. Yesterday, in “Vindicating Mark Regnerus,” I described the response he himself has now given in a second article in the journal (Social Science Research) in which his original article appeared.

Regnerus’s research exploded the “no differences” thesis to which advocates of same-sex marriage have clung–that is, the thesis that children do just as well being raised by parents in such relationships as they do being raised by their own biological, married parents who stay together for the long haul. Furious at his dissent from their unwarranted “consensus,” Regnerus’s critics lashed out at him with everything from reasonable (but misplaced) criticisms of his research to vicious attacks on him as a person.

One of the more temperate critics of Regnerus has been David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, the country’s most famous opponent-of-same-sex marriage-turned-activist-for-same-sex-marriage. At the blog, Blankenhorn rushed to comment Tuesday, after the first of my two installments went up, that I had not addressed what he regarded as the most important criticisms of Regnerus’s work. But that was the burden of the second installment, which went online yesterday morning, so he was going off a bit half-cocked.

Yesterday Blankenhorn commented again, but still managed to miss the forest because he is intent on finding one tree in which only he is interested. He complains that Regnerus was wrong to describe the parenting of children by persons who have same-sex relationships as a “family structure,” as in the title of the New Family Structures Study. But this is to get hung up on a question of description rather than a dispute over the very important phenomena Regnerus has uncovered.  What if the name of the study were the “New Family Experiences Study,” or the “New Family Relationships Study”? Then Blankenhorn’s point collapses.

As I explained in my second article yesterday, one of Regnerus’s most crucial discoveries is that “family instability is the characteristic experience of those whose parents have same-sex relationships.” That is saying something very important about “family structure,” is it not?

Still, we may thank David Blankenhorn for a couple of things. In his first post on Tuesday, he conceded a point made by Regnerus, and by Loren Marks of LSU in another important article back in June–namely, that “previous studies of this topic have been deeply flawed.” Saying so will not endear Blankenhorn to his new allies, but it is true and honest of him to say so.

Secondly, to his repeated complaint that Regnerus was not really looking at “family structure” when he examined the messy social reality of unstable families headed by parents in same-sex relationships, we might say: Amen, brother, what these kids lack, and what they need, and what these experiences are not giving them, is–family structure.

P.S. Blankenhorn admits not having read the new articles in Social Science Research on which I comment in my two Public Discourse essays. He really should. Unfortunately, for nonsubscribers they’re behind an expensive paywall; to read the whole 40-page section of the journal that I discuss would cost over $250. But anyone who works or studies at a subscriber institution can get behind that wall for free, here, if one goes through one’s institutional library portal.

P.P.S. A reminder that readers may now follow me on Twitter @MatthewJFranck.

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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