Mark Regnerus

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mark Regnerus | Daily Texan Staff

In a recent study, associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus found that the reason for a decline in marriage rates in 18- to 23-year-olds is due to the cheapened value of sex in today’s hookup culture.

Regnerus discussed this study in an article for the Wall Street Journal last month as part of his book published in September and the article received mixed reactions. One of his main arguments is that the uptake of birth control and online pornography have played a role in “cheapening” sex, and he said online pornography is more graphic and easily available than still images such as magazines.

“(Women) could have relationships, they could even be married, and just not have children until much later in their fertility cycle,” Regnerus said. “With porn, men have access and so does she if she chooses to watch cheaper sex that in some ways it more closely mimics the actual sex act than when it was just pinned on the wall of a mechanics shop.”

Regnerus argues that for American men, sex has become “cheap,” as many women today expect little in return for sex. Regnerus’ critics, however, said the decline in marriage is because of money, not sex.

“Men’s marriageability has always been tied to money and their earning power to some extent,” Regnerus said. “As that has lagged, women’s earning power has risen, and women don’t need to marry in the way that they once did.”

Izzy Willner, a marine and freshwater sciences freshman, said she believes sex could play a role in declining marriages, but it is not the only factor.

“I don’t think that it’s women’s fault like he made it seem in the article, and that’s where it lost me,” Willner said. “I think that the main cause of marrying later now is economic stress.”

Mechanical engineering freshman Alex Jackson said he also thinks social media apps help to cheapen the value of sex.

“Guys and girls are more susceptible to the casual hookup when there are dating apps like Tinder out there instead of promoting actual relationships,” Jackson said.

This is not Regnerus’ first time writing about controversial topics. In 2012, he published a study on children raised by gay parents that received backlash.

“I don’t write to attract attention,” Regnerus said. “I write to be satisfied with my own assessment of what the data says. I don’t enjoy being disliked or liked, it’s just that it comes with the territory when you’re writing about sensitive issues.”

Photo Credit: Alex Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

​Editor's Note: This editorial has been updated with a copy of the letter sent to Crosnoe.

As another gay marriage case goes before the Supreme Court, Mark Regnerus has once again been spared further university scrutiny for his New Family Structures Study.

Since 2012, the associate sociology professor has courted controversy for publishing observed differences between the children of parents who had a same-sex relationship and children living with both biological parents that suggested that the latter do better than the former in life. The criticisms have focused mainly on flaws in the study’s methodology, which established no causal link between the parents’ sexuality and the observed outcomes. Ethical concerns also include Regnerus’ alleged misuse of his findings in court and failure to stop misuse and misrepresentation of his findings by conservative groups such as Focus on the Family and the Heritage Foundation.

In early March, College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl wrote a letter, obtained by the Texan through an open records request, to Robert Crosnoe, chair of the sociology department. In the letter, it is revealed that despite objections from key figures in the college, no action will be taken on the ethical concerns raised about the NFSS, and Regnerus’ post-tenure, or six-year performance, review rating will remain “exceeds expectations.”

The twists and turns this story has taken are sometimes convoluted, but the potted history, at least as it pertains to this letter, is thus: 

When Regnerus’ post-tenure review committee met in 2013-2014, it determined that his performance “exceeded expectations” based on his publication record. However, then-department chair Christine Williams disagreed, citing the controversy surrounding the methodology and conclusions of the NFSS. 

This disagreement triggered a college-level review, which in this case involved seeking “expert guidance” from Marc Musick, the college’s senior associate dean for student affairs as well as a noted sociologist himself. Diehl asked Musick to prepare a report, which addressed both methodological and ethical issues, including Regnerus’ use of his study in legal briefs and testimony against gay marriage and his half-hearted attempts to correct the public record on his findings.

Because Diehl felt that the post-tenure review committee was not an appropriate venue to discuss ethical concerns, he deferred to Robert Peterson, associate vice president for research, and his supervisor, Juan Sanchez, vice president for research. They did not believe that the charges leveled met the standards of scientific misconduct and declined to investigate.

The post-tenure review committee met again in January of this year and was tasked by Diehl with considering only methodological problems. Based on this charge, the committee found the following, as summarized and endorsed by Diehl: “Valid methodological concerns have been raised. … A key one is this: Because the design of the study ensured that the parental same-sex relationship variable was confounded with the family structure stability variable, it is not possible to conclude that the different life outcomes between the two groups were caused by the parental relationship variable.” Diehl, citing this finding and Regnerus’ original caution that the article did not deal with same-sex marriage legal rights, agreed that “no policy implications about same-sex parenting should be drawn from the study.” But the fact is Regnerus did use those findings in court.

While we are cheered by the committee’s findings and Diehl’s endorsement, we are disappointed that he didn’t act on the serious ethical dilemmas caused by Regnerus’ reckless misuse of his study, not only because they don’t even give Regnerus a slap on the wrist, but also because his assertion that post-tenure review committees should not concern themselves with ethical issues sets a dangerous precedent and is also inconsistent with the University’s Comprehensive Periodic Review Guidelines. Section 10 of the guidelines states that “incompetence, neglect of duty, or other good cause” may be used to to initiate “appropriate disciplinary action.”

That is to say that Diehl could have seized on the opportunity to review Regnerus’ ethical standards.

But he shamefully chose not to.

Instead he chose the path of least resistance. Diehl sees it differently, of course. He wants to close this chapter of the college’s history so that it can move on. He closes the letter by saying, “I am concerned that recent events and the strong feelings they have evoked have tended to disrupt the strong level of collegiality that has characterized the Department of Sociology over the years. Accordingly, I hope that you will take steps to restore harmonious working relations among all of your faculty and, in particular, to re-engage Professor Regnerus in the life and work of the department.”

We don’t fault Diehl for having the impulse to keep the peace, but it should have been outweighed by the blinding  scientific errors and ethical lapses demonstrated by Regnerus.

Regnerus’ post-tenure review decision is final. However, for years now, Regnerus has turned a blind eye, and contributed directly, to the perversion of his findings by right-leaning activists. Diehl shouldn’t repeat his mistake. Instead of sitting idly by, he should take real action and more forcefully condemn not just the methodological, but also the ethical, shortcomings of Regnerus’ work.

​Diehl's letter:

Musick's report:

Regnerus' response:

Regnerus made as much as $40,000 from Witherspoon Institute in 2013

Mark Regnerus, the associate sociology professor who has generated controversy because of his apparent conflicts of interest over the past two years, has yet another dubious distinction to add to his recent list of accomplishments.

In 2012, Regnerus, who sidelines as a member of the non-University-affiliated Austin Institute for The Study of Family and Culture, published a controversial study that concluded that the children of gay and lesbian parents fare worse than those of straight parents. The New Family Structures Study, which was roundly condemned by the academic community for its faulty methodology and disavowed by the sociology department here at UT, was funded by the conservative Witherspoon Institute. Since then, the Texan has learned through an open records request that the Princeton, New Jersey-based think tank paid Regnerus between $20,000 and $39,999.99 to “[design], [organize] and [lead] a several-day seminar for graduate students in June 2013 on the conceptual foundations involved in contemporary sociological thought and the conduct of social science research” in addition to consulting for the institute on other matters that summer and fall.

The revelation, made in a form Regnerus was required to submit disclosing his financial conflicts of interest, shows the thorough extent to which Regnerus has cozied up to his benefactors. According to the Texas Tribune’s Government Salaries Explorer, Regnerus makes $86,500 a year, meaning that he made between 23 and 46 percent of a year’s University pay from Witherspoon last year.

With clear evidence of a such a generous ongoing relationship with the Witherspoon Institute, one once again has to wonder whether the professor is working out of disinterest or self-interest.

Brands is editor-in-chief.

Jayne Rowse, left, looks at April DeBoer on Friday after a decision to strike down Michigan’s gay-marriage ban.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

On March 21, federal judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan’s 2004 law banning same-sex marriage. The decision, despite pertaining to another state, still paid a great deal of attention to Texas, or at least to research conducted by UT sociology professor Mark Regnerus. 

In his opinion, the judge drew on emails obtained through open records requests and Regnerus’ testimony in court to conclude that Regnerus’ gay parenting study was “concocted at the behest” of Regnerus’ funders, the conservative Witherspoon Institute and Bradley Foundation, to be used  at the Supreme Court. Friedman wrote that Regnerus “obliged” his politically minded funders — funders  who “clearly wanted” predetermined results that would protect “the funder’s concept of ‘the institution of marriage’” from the assault by the prevailing social science consensus.

A Pre-trial deposition by Regnerus’ colleague and fellow witness BYU economics professor Joseph Price also exposed a previously unknown connection between Regnerus’ study and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. According to The New York Times, Heritage hosted various meetings to help coordinate Regnerus and others’ research that they hoped would halt gay marriage victories in court.  

According to the deposition, Regnerus attended at least one such meeting, as did the state’s other social science expert witnesses. The judge, a Reagan appointee, concluded that whatever his interpretations, “[Regnerus] certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort” on gay parenting outcomes.

Such a pointed rebuke by a legal authority embarrasses Regnerus, but it also gives the University a simple way to revisit its own August 2012 decision to defend Regnerus against allegations of “scientific misconduct.” UT should scrutinize the Michigan trial testimonies and determine whether the new evidence presented warrants some sort of formal action or whether the University should once again reaffirm that Regnerus has done nothing wrong. Mainly, UT should consider whether Regnerus was dishonest regarding the “proposing, conducting, or reporting” of his findings.

Although the University recently distanced itself from Regnerus’ opinions, in the 2012 inquiry, the University found no evidence that Regnerus violated ethics norms. Based on the scant evidence at the time, the University had a point. Having not yet filed briefs or testified, Regnerus argued that he had merely put out controversial research to let other scholars and organizations interpret the findings as they wished, a stance even I accepted at the time. Regnerus’ own study warned against politicizing his findings and claimed that it could not answer questions surrounding the “legal legitimacy” of gay marriages. Regnerus also claimed in his article that “the funding sources played no role at all in the design or conduct of the study, the analyses, the interpretations of the data, or in the preparation of this manuscript.” These arguments, weighed by Friedman in a court of law, were unnecessary, misleading and unethical. After all, Regnerus, like any activist researcher, could have simply acknowledged the funders’ involvement in his study and explained that he wished to stop the prevailing consensus. Instead, he hid their involvement.

According to the emails released in February 2013, Regnerus asked Witherspoon for feedback regarding the study’s boundaries, timelines and the funders’ hopes for what the project might produce. Regnerus admitted on cross-examination that he filed away Heritage Foundation media talking points regarding his research after giving a talk on his study there days before the study’s publication. When questioned further, he said he “largely ignored” the document.

Regnerus is not the first professor to have disclosure issues. After initially promoting former geology professor Charles Groat’s fracking study in July 2012 — around the same time Regnerus’ study came out — the University reprimanded Groat and updated its disclosure policies a few months later. In December 2012 an independent investigation noted deficiencies in UT’s procedures and confirmed that his employment by the company he was studying constituted a conflict of interest. 

Regnerus seemed to cross the line from “good-faith disagreements,” a plausible defense against misconduct allegations, and possible incompetence, to dishonesty in reporting his research, testifying and filing briefs across the nation even though his study warned it could not address the politics of gay marriage. Furthermore, non-disclosure on his part in a coordinated effort by Heritage, another  conservative organization, to get multiple politically charged studies into the courtroom while his study was being routed through the Population Research Center recklessly put the University’s reputation on the line based only on partial disclosure.

While Regnerus was not employed by Witherspoon, Regnerus seemed to produce his study’s conclusions for both ideological and financial reasons. Regnerus told the Texan he accepted Witherspoon and the Bradley Foundation’s $785,000 grant because receiving a National Institute of Health grant, typically $477,215 for 2011 according to the institute, for a polarized topic was time-consuming and unlikely. According to Regnerus, the survey cost around $415,000 total.

Some may ask why UT should bother pursuing a once-reputable scientist whose testimony has already been discredited and whose department has already distanced itself from his opinions and interpretations in court, citing the “highest ethical standards” of the department. Nevertheless, the evidence that has surfaced since the initial allegations suggests not only that Regnerus misled the academic community from the beginning, but also that he unnecessarily bent the academic process to present himself as unbiased in his research. If Friedman is correct that the funders influenced the research, Regnerus deserves direct institutional rebuke. If Friedman is incorrect, the University should defend Regnerus against the judge’s opinion. Either way, in the light of new evidence, the University must settle the question of Regnerus’ ethical behavior.

Knoll is a first-year master’s student in Latin American studies from Dallas.

Notably absent in this article (which has some pretty bold claims) is an interview with either Rady or Strickland about their platform, or any evidence on what makes Bill Powers “evil”. But hey, unsubstantiated cynicism is the only way to get readers at this point.

— Online commenter “James” in response to Lucy Griswold’s column, “How UT’s Student Government systematically fails UT students, faculty and staff.” 


Since the amnesty was granted [i]n 1986 illegal immigration skyrocketed and now we have 4 times as many illegals as there were before we tried to fix the problem. This proves that amnesties just encourage more illegal immigration and that they solve nothing. The record is clear. If you want to end illegal immigration then enforce the law and that means no more amnesties and zero tolerance. It is always hard to punish wrongful behavior, especially when the perpetrator is otherwise law abiding. It is not going to get easier by waiting until the problem gets even worse. People will stop coming illegally if they understand that deportation is going to come both swift and sure. They need to understand we are not playing games.

— Online commenter “Hacimo” in response to Noah Horowitz’s column, “Dan Patrick’s former employee shows the danger in stereotyping immigrants


Question — how can a United State District Judge, such as Orlando Garcia, break the laws of the State of Texas? Answer — By following the lead of President Obama who has determined to disrupt this country by appointing many such judges. As the result, too many liberal judges have completely ignored our morals and family values, ignored the rights of religious faiths, ignored the laws that were created by the majority of the people, and ignored the limits of our Constitution. It is wrong for judges to authorize the slaughter of millions of unborn children, it is wrong to grant any taxpayer funded sex change operations for transgender prison inmates, and it is wrong to eliminate the Marriage Act which has always been the American way of life. The liberal judges who have done these things have completely lost touch with America and should be removed from our justice system as soon as possible. The American people and Congress have the mechanism and power to reverse these destructive acts. Will we do so or will we allow the continued destruction of our nation, our heritage, and our way of life?

— Ken Senkow, submitted via mail, in response to U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of Texas’ same-sex marriage ban


UT sociology professor’s research on sex is unscientific and wrong for UT” rightly raised important questions about the methodology and  ideological assumptions underpinning “Sexual Economics” a video produced by Sociology Professor Mark Regnerus and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, a right-wing research institute. The columnist is right when he asks students to skeptically evaluate Regnerus’ claims. The video places the burden on women to be more responsible in demanding a “higher price” for sexual activity. Although some of his evidence questioning the pill’s objectifying side effects appropriates feminist critiques of the Sexual Revolution, and his talk of “sexual economics” bares resemblance to mainstream discussion of “long and short term mating strategies”, his sexist conclusion deserves refutation.

However the headline’s implicit suggestion (explicit in the website summary of the article) that Regnerus does not belong at this university mainly because of his antiquated critique of the sexual revolution and alternative sexual practices itself is laden with ideological assumptions. The article assumes “progress”, not academic debate and rebuttal, as the university’s standard and assumes sexual diversity is above academic critique.

While students evaluate Regnerus’ views on sex, we shouldn’t forget that dishonesty, not ideological disconformity, is the standard for revaluating a professor’s support amongst his peers. His misuse of his of his “fundamentally flawed” gay-parenting study in court to stop gay marriage (the study stated explicitly that it could not answer political questions over the “legal legitimacy” of gay marriages) seemed to be the main catalysts for the College of Liberal Arts and Department of Sociology’s distancing.

— Travis Knoll, Latin American studies masters student, in response to David Davis’ column,  “UT sociology professor’s research on sex is unscientific and wrong for UT

UT associate professor of Sociology Mark Regnerus led the New Family Structures Study, which sought to answer how the children of gay parents fare in comparison to children of heterosexual parents. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

The Sochi Olympics have drawn fire because of Russia’s law against “gay propaganda” and police repression of gay activists in the country. But gay activists aren’t just drawing attention to the expected abuse by Russian authorities, but also to Olympic sponsors, who, in their minds, legitimize discrimination by not speaking out forcefully enough against anti-gay laws. Scenes of activists being tackled while standing beside Coca-Cola logos and McDonald’s advertisements asking viewers to send “Cheers to Sochi” have only reinforced this initial impression. But when I think of Sochi, I don’t just think of a slew of spineless sponsors; I think of UT, and how UT is itself responsible for legitimizing anti-gay propaganda.

UT directly supported sociology professor Mark Regnerus’ “New Family Structures Study,” which showed the alleged negative effects of gay parents raising children, by issuing a glowing press release about the study on the official UT website. In it, they called the study “particularly significant” because it was the first large national sample of children raised by gay parents. 

But the study’s overly broad definition of “gay,” which also drew mainly on gay parents who were already divorced, should have given UT reason to pause from the start. Questions in March 2013 about whether the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank, played a concrete role in the study should have at least made the University question its original decision to jump on the bandwagon. While the University may have argued at the time that any flaws in Regnerus’ study should be hashed out in sociology conference halls, Regnerus himself has violated his own mandate. He promoted the study last year from Hawaii to Michigan, from Washington, D.C., to Eastern Europe, to argue that gays shouldn’t marry. 

The University, in a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott on Oct. 2, 2012 obtained in an open records request, attempted to explain its public relations collaboration with Regnerus. The letter argued that the study was not just Regnerus’ creation, but also the University’s “intellectual property.” The letter argued the University deliberations surrounding the study were confidential and not subject to release because its departments “offer direction or insight” to University officials about how to respond to the predicted backlash and how to articulate “the University’s position” on the study as a whole. That “direction or insight” led to the aforementioned press release.

For UT, it seems, the study wasn’t just a study backed by notoriously conservative funders, but rather UT’s study. 

“It is the University’s responsibility to protect the fruits of the state’s investment by shielding from disclosure the details of its research efforts and discoveries.” 

The University wished to “assure that its media responses accurately reflect the global educational mission critical to an institution of higher education. … The public’s perception of the University inevitably affects its broad educational policy. Our success in cultivating and maintaining good media relations either strengthens or weakens the University’s reputation in the community, state, and nation.”

To be fair, the Office of Public Affairs is generally open to promoting research when a professor requests assistance, no matter how obscure.

Some could argue that refusing initial support to a professor on a controversial topic would chill campus research and freedom of speech. That said, the University can defend its brand while respecting academic freedom. As the Austin Chronicle reported in September 2001, UT journalism professor Robert Jensen published a controversial op-ed in the Houston Chronicle claiming that 9/11, while atrocious, was no more horrendous than U.S. military actions abroad days after the attack. Then-UT President Larry R. Faulkner responded to Jensen in a letter to the Chronicle by saying he respected Jensen’s right to publish the piece, but that Jensen’s views did not represent those of the University. Jensen  accepted those two arguments while rejecting Faulkner’s overall criticism that he was a “fountain of undiluted foolishness.” Jensen is still here, and as controversial as ever. 

This exchange raises important questions: If Jensen had asked the Office of Public Affairs to publish his op-ed in a press release on the University website three days after 9/11, would they have done it? Secondly, if the head of a university can distance itself from an individual’s column, why can’t the University do the same for a press release promoting a poorly analyzed study, which has been misconstrued by its primary author and others to deny rights to a certain class of people? The University must allow for dissenting opinions and even research trial and error, but academic freedom does not require the University to rubber-stamp questionable research in high-stakes polarizing debates.

The University cannot replace promoting quality research with a public-relations spin and bad science. The press release makes UT as responsible for promoting the study as Regnerus himself. Having called out Jensen while helping Regnerus, the University comes off as politically selective in who or what it singles out, directly or indirectly, for rebuke or support.  While some could argue that “all press is good press” for Regnerus and that he deserves no more attention, the study is still being used in legal arguments nationally and internationally to deny rights to others. With the world’s eyes turned on Sochi for the next two weeks, the University should start to rebuild its brand by owning up to its initial mistake, one that indirectly legitimized the anti-gay actions of Russia.

Knoll is a first-year master’s student in Latin American studies from Dallas.

Every Friday, the Daily Texan editorial board will publish a selection of tweets and online comments culled from the Daily Texan website and the various Daily Texan Twitter accounts, along with direct submissions from readers.

Our intention is to continue the tradition of the Firing Line, a column first started in the Texan in 1909, in which readers share their opinions “concerning any matter of general interest they choose.” Just like in 1909, the Texan “will never express its approval or disapproval of opinions given under the [Firing Line] header.” In other words, take your shot.

Submissions can be sent to

Thanks for the plot twist, Wendy


No fans for Regnerus



General Criticism

We don’t know, bro

UT associate professor of Sociology Mark Regnerus led the New Family Structures Study, which sought to answer how the children of gay parents fare in comparison to children of heterosexual parents. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

UT sociology professor Mark Regnerus, the author of a controversial gay parenting study allegedly showing that children of same-sex parents are damaged as a result, spoke this weekend on a panel put on by the Religious Newswriters Association in which he called for “greater civility” in discussing gay marriage, acknowledging parenting studies like his will not “solve national and global debates” surrounding the issue. 

These level-headed and uncontroversial comments are surprising, considering Regnerus’ signed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case which overturned California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.

Moreover, in recent months, Regnerus has inserted himself into the international debate regarding same-sex parenting in a decidedly political way, raising important questions about his complicity in the ways in which his study is being used to limit LGBTQ rights.

Initially, I defended Regnerus’ right to fight for his flawed study in the academic sphere.  However, it’s clear to me now that assuming good faith was a naïve mistake. I was wrong: Regnerus has not been irresponsibly silent. At best, he has been reckless in his promotion of his work without regard to the fallout. At worst, he is aware and doesn’t mind. 

In February of this year, Regnerus gave an interview to a Russian language news agency in Ukraine. The homophobic article that resulted cites “shocking” evidence from a “reputable university” (ours)  showing inferior results for children of same-sex parenting. The reporter asked Regnerus about a September 2012 investigation into whether Regnerus breached ethics standards in his research protocol. The article claims that not only did the University say that Regnerus did nothing wrong, which is true, but that UT has allegedly tested the methodology and confirmed that the research is of high quality. Actually, the University has not taken a position on the quality of the study.

 In the Q-and-A, Regnerus explains the University’s ruling on the ethics allegations. He restates that his data is accurate and accessible. The article ends by saying the study shows “the tragic consequences” of gay parenting.

While Regnerus’ responses themselves are no different from what he has told this newspaper, Vse Novosti is not The Daily Texan. Regnerus gave this interview in a Russian-language news outlet shortly after the State Department expressed its concern about the “discriminatory” anti-gay laws then being debated there, laws that were later passed.    

Adding cowardice to irresponsibility, Regnerus still told The Dallas Morning News in June that he could not police ideological uses of his study. Regenerus’ Vse Novosti interview seems even more reckless in hindsight as his study was later used by Russian lawmaker Andrei Zhuravlyov to advance a bill that would allow the removal of children from same-sex households. 

A few weeks ago Regnerus spoke out against Zhuravlyov’s bill, and I applaud him for that. But in the same column, Regnerus defended his foray into the political sphere based on his personal opposition to gay marriage. Zhuravlyov’s  bill had not come up when Regnerus gave his interview. However, are we to believe that Regnerus was not aware of Russia’s general situation when he chose to respond to the Russian language outlet even as he declined to be interviewed by The New York Times? 

University documents show that the Office of Public Affairs collaborated with Regnerus on the initial press release for the NFSS study. They highlighted the sensitivity of the study and reminded him of the expected negative reaction to the research. Given the risks to the University’s and his co-researchers’ reputations, why didn’t Regnerus steer clear of high-profile political debates his study doesn’t address? Regnerus claims that he is merely an objective scientist, but in the last year he has acted more like a political hack than an intellectual responsibly using his position.

Perhaps the newest Russian initiative to remove children from the homes of same-sex couples has taught Regnerus the risks of inserting himself into complex cultural and legal debates. If so, Regnerus should admit his role in politicizing the study and apologize for contributing to its misuse. If not, the University community should call him to account for his irresponsibility. 

 Knoll is a first-year master’s student in Latin American studies from Dallas.

A UT professor’s study questioning the academic consensus that children raised by gay parents are as healthy as those raised by straight parents has become part of the news coverage of gay rights cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The American Independent, a progressive news organization, ran a story on March 10 questioning sociology professor Mark Regnerus’ assertion that his study, which found that children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than those raised in traditional families, was not influenced by his largest funder, the conservative think tank The Witherspoon Foundation. The Independent alleges in the story that William Bradford Wilcox, then-director of Witherspoon’s Program on Family, Marriage and Democracy, helped with data analysis and suggested venues for publication. The Independent further alleges that emails show Regnerus’ funders expressed their desire for the study to be released before the Supreme Court decided on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the questions raised in the case pending before it. According to emails obtained by the Independent, Regnerus himself asked Wilcox to clarify the funders’ expectations for their “optimal timeline” and “hopes for what emerges from the project.” Although the American Independent’s news report is not the final word, it raises serious questions about Regnerus’ intentions and straightforwardness.

That Regnerus, with his academic pedigree, would produce such a slapdash study is troubling. More dangerous, however, is his nonchalant attitude toward the misuse of his study by conservative groups. The study has been cited as evidence against same-sex marriage in various federal courts and in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, the two gay marriage cases pending before the Supreme Court. When he spoke with me, Regnerus said he does not concern himself with the legal value of his study, does not follow legal proceedings and does not know how the study would be used in legal arguments about adoption. This comes despite the study’s original warning that it “cannot broach the question of causation” and Regnerus’ own admission that the study does not analyze “parenting practices.” His hand-washing, while expedient, is disingenuous and betrays the academic prestige granted to him by UT.

Academics have a certain responsibility. In his 1967 essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”, MIT linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky writes, “Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions.” In exchange for this responsibility, intellectuals are afforded a degree of protection, of immunity from political attacks and, as Chomsky writes, “the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth ... behind a veil of distortion.” Regnerus himself has admitted the benefits of this protection. In responding to my questions about his study, he wrote in November, “I’m grateful that UT has been a place wherein I could study this subject. It has not been easy, of course, but how else can scholars do this apart from the protection of institutions? Academic freedom is a pretty big deal.”

Although I agree that academics should be afforded some institutional protection, Regnerus undermines his own legitimacy and that of the University as a whole when he is not fully transparent about Witherspoon’s involvement and when he remains silent as his study is misused at the highest levels of our government. I do not expect that Regnerus will retract his study entirely, but to sit by while others deliberately misconstrue one’s work is unacceptable.

To clear up any questions about his intentions, Regnerus should change course and speak out publicly against the use of his study in legal arguments. He does not need to support gay marriage or parenting. But he should care enough about his credibility to request that his study be removed from future legal debates. If Regnerus does not take responsibility for his study and its effects, he will have deserved much of the backlash he has received.

Knoll is a Latin American Studies senior from Dallas.

When I first learned about UT sociology professor Mark Regnerus’ “New Family Structure Study,” which declared that children of gay parents fare worse than those from “intact biological families,” I, as the son of a gay father, felt that my upbringing was under attack. It was hard to sympathize with Regnerus feeling a “chill” after releasing the study to much criticism, as my own community had felt the chill of prejudice for decades.

After writing a column in The Daily Texan criticizing the study, I ran into Regnerus on campus earlier this semester. I immediately introduced myself. He mentioned that he had read my remarks and that he had made several revisions and clarifications regarding his study. I accepted his offer to converse about it in more detail. Looking back, the straightforwardness of these conversations still surprises me, as does the fact that I am starting to sympathize with some of the difficulties he faces.

Despite my criticisms of the study, I agree with Regnerus that we need a more civil discourse regarding this polarizing issue. Particularly, I think that some of the reaction to his study was overstated. I have often heard assertions that his study attempts to undo 30 years of research or that he wishes to say that gays are bad parents. Some academics, like Darren E. Sherkat, a sociology professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale are more frank, calling it “bullshit.” Comments like that cast aside too easily some of Regnerus’ more positive contributions, like the importance of stability in child-rearing. These positive questions cause me to see the study as a sort of Rorschach test, in which the subject looks at an inkblot and sees what he wants to see. The different actors interpret the data as they see fit, and, in the case of Regnerus’ study, progressives should reject its most extreme conclusions and wrestle with its legitimate questions regarding alleged defects in prior studies. Regnerus’ revisions to the study redefine the category in question as children who said their parents have had homosexual relationships instead of implying that they are self-identifying gays and lesbians. While I do not agree that his study is definitive — one study cannot by itself overturn the prevailing consensus overnight — Regnerus’ work raises important questions about the stability of gay relationships and provides an  alternative method to those that tend toward self-selecting upper-class gay families. When I asked him about his challenge to the academic consensus, he responded, “First, the social science here is pretty young. Second, the evidence about child outcomes among gay and lesbian parents has been limited by sample size, method variance, etc.” In a recent interview with Focus on the Family, a socially conservative Christian organization, Regnerus emphasized that he did not want to imply that “gay parents are inherently bad” and that his study did not examine “parenting methods.”

Despite the revisions, I still find parts of Regnerus’ study problematic. He decided to include his finding that there were significantly higher rates of sexual abuse in lesbian households than those of  “intact biological families” despite ambiguousness regarding whether the abuse occurred in the lesbian relationship or in a previous heterosexual marriage. Gray areas in research are not uncommon, but I still believe that it was imprudent to run the risk of publishing findings that could reinforce, on dubious grounds, the prejudice that there is a connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. Regnerus still asserts that he attempts to “follow the data,” that “data is not the enemy” and that one shouldn’t “avoid research questions just because you risk offending people,” and I still disagree with him. It is one thing to publish controversial numbers that are based on statistical realities, but it is quite another to publish numbers as “statistically significant” when their context is, in the author’s own words, “muddled.” In order to effectively contribute to the academic debate, Regnerus should have shown more caution and published only the most solid parts of his research.

However, I do not believe in academic censorship or in ostracizing academics for uncomfortable findings. No one can completely control how every study will be used, and gays do not need to be “not different.” Regnerus’ study deserves a more constructive reading to evaluate its place in the parenting debate.

Knoll is a Latin American Studies senior from Dallas.