HRC Blog

Judge Orders Disclosure of Documents Detailing Regnerus’ Debunked Study

call it out hrcPost submited by Dan Rafter, Former HRC Associate Director of Communications

In an opinion released today, a Florida state court judge ruled that the University of Central Florida must turn over records related to the publication of a debunked 2012 study conducted by Mark Regnerus that demonizes gay and lesbian parents. Regnerus’ research has been called into legal question not merely for its questionable results, but also because the study was underwritten by the Witherspoon Institute, an organization with a history of distinctly unscholarly anti-gay activity.
 
Almost from the moment it was released, the 2012 New Family Structures Study raised red flags among family scholars for its results that suggest that children are less likely to thrive when raised by gay and lesbian parents than if raised by straight parents. The study is a clear outlier among 30 years’ worth of social science that suggest that children thrive equally well in two parent households, regardless of the genders of their parents. It was soon revealed that Regnerus’s study utterly failed to control for error. The study’s so-called “straight” households featured heterosexual parents in committed, long-term relationships, whereas the so-called “gay” households failed to feature same-sex couples in comparable relationships.
 
In today’s opinion, Orange County Circuit Judge Donald Grincewicz ruled that emails and documents possessed by University of Central Florida (UCF) related to the flawed study’s peer-review process must be turned over to John Becker, who sought the documents under Florida’s Public Records Act. UCF houses the journal Social Science Research, which published the Regnerus study, and the editor of the journal, UCF Professor James Wright, led the peer-review process for the research. Becker is represented by the Law Office of Andrea Flynn Mogensen, P.A., and Barrett, Chapman & Ruta, P.A; and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation funded the litigation.
 
“There has always been a dark cloud over the Regnerus study, yet this debunked study is now being touted by anti-LGBT organizations around the country and around the globe,” said Ellen Kahn, M.S.S, of the Human Rights Campaign. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and the public has a right to know how junk science gets published in a scholarly journal.”
 
Two hundred scholars as well as the American Sociological Association were quick to point out the study’s glaring flaws and biases. These problems also included conflicts of interest among individuals and organizations who were both funding and working on the study, as well as a questionable peer review process.  
 
This ruling is an important step toward exposing the potential anti-LGBT animus behind Regnerus’ research. Since its publication, the study has shown up time and time again in marriage equality and LGBT adoption debates both in the United States and internationally.
 
In France, for example, Regnerus’ research was cited by opponents of a marriage equality bill that was eventually signed into law. But Regnerus’ faulty research has been most damaging in Russia – where it has been used as evidence for archaic and damaging legislation that criminalized “homosexual propaganda” in the country and banned the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples and individuals living in countries with marriage equality. It even was used to support proposed legislation that would allow the Russian state to remove children from an LGBT parent or someone assumed to be LGBT.
 
While Regnerus initially claimed that his study was not motivated by ideology, he later went on to testify against marriage equality in legislative hearings, and even cited his discredited research in amicus briefs filed in the marriage equality cases before the U.S. Supreme Court last summer.
 
A copy of the court’s ruling can be found online here.

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