Will Obviously Biased Study Against Gay Parents Persuade Supreme Court?

A widely discredited parenting study saying kids are worse off if they have gay parents was funded by prominent religious conservative groups with the express intention of using these disputed findings in gay marriage cases before the Supreme Court, new evidence suggests.

According to documents secured by the Huffington Post and The American Independent via a freedom of information request, including internal emails and letters, financial backers of the highly controversial New Family Structures Study were from the very beginning crafting the study to be a weapon in their fight against gay marriage.

Biased Backers of Study Make for Biased Results

The New Family Structures Study, which had at its helm self-described Christian sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas, was supposed to be an unbiased look at same-sex parenting compared to opposite-sex parenting. However, claims that the study’s all conservative backers (chiefly the religious conservative Witherspoon Institute) had not biased the results always seemed suspect.

Now, the obtained internal communications between Luis Tellez, president of the Witherspoon Institute, and Mark Rengerus regarding Regnerus coming aboard for the study cast further doubt on that claim:

“Naturally we would like to move along as expeditiously as possible but experience suggests we ought not to get hung up with deadlines, do what is right and best, move on it, don’t dilly dolly, etc.,” Tellez wrote in a Sept. 22, 2010 email. “It would be great to have this before major decisions of the Supreme Court but that is secondary to the need to do this and do it well. I would like you to take ownership and think of how would you want it done, rather than someone like me dictating parameters but of course, here to help.”

Taken on its own this seems fairly innocuous, but Tellez then wrote to another religious conservative organization for funds, the Bradley Foundation and its Vice President for Programs Dan Schmidt, where he appears not only to anticipate the study’s findings but also outlines an intent to use the study to fight same-sex marriage:

“As you know, the future of the institution of marriage at this moment is very uncertain,” Tellez wrote in the letter, dated April 5, 2011. “It is essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society. That is what the NFSS is designed to do. Our first goal is to seek the truth, whatever that may turn out to be. Nevertheless, we are confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study as long as it is done honestly and well.”

Tellez is then quoted as saying the supposed question surrounding same-sex parenting “must now be answered — in a scientifically serious way — by those who are in favor of traditional marriage.”

In a separate letter, he specifically mentions that other incidentally pro-gay studies have been used by lawmakers and the courts to advance marriage equality and, to paraphrase, that there is need for the Witherspoon-backed research so as to offer the traditional marriage view.

Conservative Backers Had a Hand in Framing Research

A second issue raised by these documents is that Mark Regnerus has repeatedly claimed that though the Witherspoon Institute had been the driving force behind the study, the group had no role in data gathering or analysis. This now appears to be very obviously false.

Obtained documents show that a consultant, University of Virginia associate sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox, was hired by the University of Texas to aid Regnerus’ team. At the time, Wilcox was also the director of Witherspoon’s Program on Family, Marriage, and Democracy, the very branch of Witherspoon which first spawned the study (and in fact recruited Rengerus).

Mark Regnerus has since denied that Wilcox was in any way a “Witherspoon agent,” yet the Huffington Post quotes Regnerus asking Wilcox a number of questions including what the “optimal timelines” of the study should be, thus suggesting that Wilcox was very much part of the process and was pushing to have the study released as quickly as possible. The Huffington Post also goes on to say that the documents they have uncovered show Wilcox was able to make decisions and represent the Witherspoon Institute even before he was officially contracted.

Journal Review Process was Unusually Quick

The last main issue uncovered by the reading of these documents is that Wilcox seems to have been key in suggesting that Regnerus submit the study to Social Science Research, the journal which in due course did publish the study. Wilcox sits on the editorial advisory board for that journal. This appears especially damning given existing concerns about the speed with which the study was pushed through the review process.

The study was submitted in February 2012 of last year. This was before Rengnerus had even finished collecting data. The study was accepted for publication just six weeks later. Much has already been written about the heavily biased review process the paper went through.

In any case, it is general practice for most studies to wait up to a year before they are published, but the Huffington Post has spoken to social demographer Michael Rosenfeld who says he was asked to write a commentary of the paper by the journal with a turnaround time of just two weeks. When he then asked to see the data Regernus’ team had gathered, they refused him access.

Social Science Research editor James Wright denies that there was anything unusual about the peer review process or the short turnaround time, saying that it was in fact his wish to publish the study alongside another article on existing gay marriage studies, but this has done little to dissuade from criticism that a more thorough review process would have revealed the obvious flaws in methodology that should have prevented the paper ever being considered a serious piece of research.

Despite Being Discredited, Study Used in Several Marriage Equality Cases

Though the study has been widely discredited by many in the field, and even Mark Regnerus himself has said the study cannot be used to show same-sex parent families are incapable of providing just as good an upbringing for children as their heterosexual counterparts, the study has still been used as a main piece of research to back up anti-gay marriage arguments made in court.

For instance, the legal team acting on behalf of House Republicans has cited the New Family Structures Study in Windsor v. United States, a case challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case surrounding Proposition 8. Moreover, the study has been cited by a number of Religious Right groups who have filed their own friend of the court briefs in these cases, and was even used in August of 2012 as part of the basis by which a Hawaii judge denied a challenge to the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The Supreme Court is expected to take up Hollingsworth v. Perry and Windsor v. United States in the next few weeks.


Related Reading:

Porn Makes Straight Men More Accepting of Gay Marriage?

‘Gays Will Burn Christians at the Stake’ Says Pastor

Study Finds Lesbian Parents May Benefit a Child’s Psychological Development

Image credit: Thinkstock.


faith v.
faith v5 years ago

Too sad that there is no other control system than self-control (which demonstrably doesn't work very well) in place for the Supreme Court.

It would be nice if all the judges took the trouble to investigate what they are supposed to be doing, and recuse themselves if they discover any signs of prejudice they would recognise in anybody else.

Aud Nordby
Aud n5 years ago


Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia5 years ago

Why am I not surprised this is from a religious group?

Lyn B.
Lyn B5 years ago

AND THEN I get cut off AND I miss some unfortunate auto-corrects!

I meant to say my "closest" friend, NOT "closet" but that is funny considering the subject matter, lol!

Here's the rest of my post (I hope!):

NONE of the gay men in my life have EVER continued to pursue any man AFTER being rebuffed. Furthermore, considering that hitting on the wrong man may end up getting one's self killed, they don't hit on random, "not-sure-if-they're-gay" men.

Also reconsider the gyms, grocery stores, bars and clubs you go to, obviously they're VERY gay friendly.

Additionally, I think ALL THE WOMEN, straight or lesbian, reading this needs to share your theory with ALL of their female friends; that the next time a straight man hits on us and we're NOT INTERESTED, we MUST RECOGNIZE that it's a Mental Defect that's making him make unwanted advances on us!

Lyn B.
Lyn B5 years ago

Oops, I had to copy and paste part of my last post but the comment is in response to John W's last remark.

Lyn B.
Lyn B5 years ago

I went and checked your profile. Which by the way, all Care2 members are allowed to do, it's not stalking, as some want to claim. Your profile is empty. I was expecting pictures of a wayyyy HOT guy, with his dating requirements for women listed and all your hobbies and causes but NOPE! NOTHING, NADA!!! 99% of the time that means your a troll or a paid right wing stooge. Since you claim to be from Australia, I don't quite get it. But whatever.

Back to the issue at hand..... If you're straight, then I will remind you once again, if being hit on constantly by men bugs you then you need to remember THAT, the next time you hit on a woman. Additionally, I think you need to seriously look at yourself, if you're getting hit on by men that much. Men, straight or gay look for signals. What on earth are you wearing? Are you super flirtatious in addition to being super attractive? Do you look like a Calvin Klein model and dress in Armani? Or are you super muscular and into leather?

I have a large number of gay men in my life, in fact, at my wedding I had a "man of honor" not a maid or matron because my closet friend is a gay man, I've known for over 25 years. I mention this so you'll know I'm asking from a deep well of knowledge, when I ask about what exactly is making you "catnip" to all these gay men. NONE of the gay men in my life have EVER continued to pursue any man AFTER being rebuffed. Furthermore, considering that hitting on the wrong man may end up getting one's self kille

Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W5 years ago

Can't wait 'til Scalia, Mr. "One in 35,000 people had contraband within their bodily persons, therefore all arrests may be subject to cavity searches as seen fit"! gets ahold of this particular data.

Would somebody please shoot that bastard? And then leave an extra bullet for that idiot Thomas to swallow?
These men are not legitimate jurists!!!
(Hey CIA - sometimes a rant is JUST a rant! You know those bastards will pay me a visit!)

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for the article

Catt R.
Catt R5 years ago

Who are you to claim you speak FOR God? Do you worship the God of mercy and love or a God of hatred and bigotry? Do some of you people not understand that you are to answer for your behavior at the end of days?
Homosexual behavior has been documented in over 250 different species, Homophobia in only one; which indicates to me that homosexuality is (for some) a biological reality, while homophobia is a lifestyle choice.
The Quran reminds us (constantly) that God can see what is in our hearts and we will answer for our thoughts and deeds at the end of days...... The Bible tells us that Jesus commanded us to love one another..... please do not EVER preach that it is God's mandate that you are to treat others with hatred, that is pure foolishness (and blasphemy).

John Why
John Why5 years ago

Scot R;
Any Gay men around he will hit on me guarenteed.
I tell them I am not interested, they keep it up, must be a Brain injury?
Perhaps they feel more Liberated in Sydney Australia than they do in west Holllywood?