Docs show sociologist Mark Regnerus was fed talking points assuring his neutrality on marriage debate; recent actions suggest otherwise.
â€œYou are a researcher, not an advocate. You are simply reporting on what the data tells us.â€
This is the first in a long list of media-training guidelines drafted for sociologist Mark Regnerus in preparation for last yearâ€™s release of his findings of the infamous â€œNew Family Structures Study,â€ a flawed, politically motivated study that suggests that children of gay parents experience more unfavorable outcomes compared to children of heterosexual, married parents.
The guidelines instructed the University of Texas at Austin associate sociology professor to focus on the science of his study and to emphasize his apolitical views. Regnerus echoed many of these talking points when his study was first released, taking pains to maintain a neutral front on the gay-marriage debate. He stated in his papers and in interviews that the study was not about gay marriage or even about gay parenting. Regnerus continues to try to appear neutral on these issues in media interviews, recentlyÂ tellingÂ The New York Timesâ€™ Bill KellerÂ that, concerning gay marriage, his study â€œpaints the reality of peopleâ€™s lives as fairly complicated.â€
But Regnerusâ€™ more recent actions indicate many of his talking points were simply that: talking points.
Since those early days, Regnerus has signed on to aÂ â€œfriend of the courtâ€Â brief in both gay-marriage cases recently taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the court to uphold Californiaâ€™s ban on same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. He hasÂ bloggedÂ about his skepticism regarding the health of kids raised by gay parents, and heâ€™s signed on to speak at a National Organization for Marriage-affiliated conference dedicated to arming college-age kids with research that opposes gay marriage.
â€˜Points to Avoidâ€™
AsÂ The American IndependentÂ reportedÂ last month, the Witherspoon Institute, the conservative think tank that funded the bulk of the New Family Structures Study, pushed to have the studyâ€™s results out before â€œmajor decisions of the Supreme Court,â€ according to documents obtained through a public records request.
Among those documents â€“ which are still being released in chunks â€“ is a document titled â€œMark Regnerus Media Trainingâ€ (attached below) which encouraged the professor to focus on the fact that his study was a large, random, nationally representative study, unlike the majority of the existing research on gay parenting. He was told to avoid politics.
The origin of this training document, which is undated, is unknown. David Ochsner, director of public affairs at the University of Texasâ€™ College of Liberal Arts, said he did not believe the guidelines were issued by UT, and he said Regnerus told him he could not remember where they came from. Witherspoon Institute President Luis Tellez said they were not issued by the Witherspoon Institute.
Regnerusâ€™ â€œkey points to makeâ€ included:
- This study does not ascribe a cause to the effects, it simply reports the data.
- For many years, gay advocates have claimed that there are no meaningful differences between children of same-sex couples and other children. This study shows this not to be true.
- Young adults raised in a same-sex household are [list key findings such as more likely to have considered suicide, etc.].
The training document also listed â€œpoints to avoid/hard questions.â€ Regnerus was encouraged, for example, to avoid stating his opinion of President Obamaâ€™s endorsement of same-sex marriage.
But if asked about his own opinion on gay marriage, he was instructed to say:
This study is not about same-sex marriage. It does not attempt to assess the differences between those gay couples who have married and those who have not. It is focused on the differences between young adults raised in a same-sex household and those raised in an [sic] intact families.
Were he to be asked about whether gay couples should be able to adopt children, Regnerus was instructed to say:
Again, I am a researcher, not an advocate. Our research finds that there are a number of significant differences between young adults raised in a same-sex household and those raised in intact families where their parents are married to each to her. I have no position on adoption, gay marriage or any other similar issue.
Were he to be asked about the Witherspoon Instituteâ€™s politics, Regnerus was told to point out that liberal organizations fund academic studies, and he was instructed to emphasize that â€œWitherspoon had nothing to do with the study design, or with the data analyses, or interpretations, or the publication of the study,â€ an oft-repeated statement that has beenÂ called into question, given that a Witherspoon fellow was heavily involved in many aspects of the study and â€“ including recommending a journal to publish it in â€“ while also working on the study as a paid consultant employed by the University of Texas.
Some of the same language in these crafted answers appeared in theÂ Q&A with himselfthat Regnerus posted on his blog in June 2012.
Regnerus adhered to some of these guidelines in early interviews.
â€œI donâ€™t have a political axe to grind,â€ he said in anÂ interviewÂ last summer with UTâ€™s student newspaperÂ The Daily Texan. â€œI know the funders are conservative. I donâ€™t know what they make of this. â€¦ My views have never been a part of this process or affect how I go about analyzing things.â€
Aligning with gay-marriage foes
But more and more, Regnerus has waded further into the gay-marriage debate.
Perhaps most tellingly, he joined the slew of activists trying to influence Supreme Court justices with his research, by signing on to a little-noticedÂ Â â€œfriend of the courtâ€ briefÂ filed in both cases before the court,Â Hollingsworth v. PerryÂ â€“ challenging the constitutionality of Californiaâ€™s Proposition 8 â€“ andÂ United States v. WindsorÂ â€“ challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act
The brief, signed by seven social-science professors in support of the legal teams defending Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, argued that â€œcompelling evidence shows that children benefit from the unique parenting contributions of both men and womenâ€ and attacked the American Psychological Associationâ€™s position that there is â€œno differenceâ€ in outcomes of children raised by same-sex parents versus heterosexual parents, saying that claim is based on studies that are methodically flawed.
Arguing that â€œthere is no dispute that a biological mother and father provide, on average, an effective and proven environment for raising children,â€ the briefâ€™s authors concluded that, â€œThe State of California and the federal government thus have a rational interest in supporting that proven parenting structure by reserving the title and status of marriage to unions comprised of a man and a woman.â€
Among the many scholarly articles referenced in this brief are both articles Regnerus wrote on the New Family Structures Study forÂ Social Science ResearchÂ andÂ another articleÂ he co-wrote related to the influence of parent-child relationships on teensâ€™ virginity status, published in theÂ Journal of Family IssuesÂ in 2006.
The brief addressed the major criticisms hurled at the New Family Structures Study, among them that the study wrongly compared intact heterosexual families to families that experienced breakups and transitions but were classified as same-sex households because a child had reported that at some point his or her parent had experienced a same-sex romantic relationship. The briefâ€™s authors challenged this criticism by suggesting that same-sex relationships are by their nature unstable.
â€œ[T]he fact that most of the same-sex households were at some point unstable raises the question of whether stable same-sex households were genuinely undercounted in the study, or whether same-sex relationships were more short-lived,â€ the briefâ€™s authors wrote. â€œThe last scenario is possible, if not probable, given other research on the comparative volatility of lesbian relationships.â€
Along with Regnerus, the brief was signed by Simon Fraser University economics professor Douglas W. Allen, Penn State University associate sociology professor David J. Eggebeen, Brigham Young University family life professor Alan J. Hawkins, Baylor University social-sciences professor Byron R. Johnson, Ava Maria University assistant economics professor Catherine Pakuluk, and Brigham Young University assistant economics professor Joseph Price.
The sociologistsâ€™ brief was directly challenged in an amicus brief filed in late February by theÂ American Sociological Association, Regnerusâ€™ professional organization. In that brief, authors argued that Regnerusâ€™ data did not support his paperâ€™s conclusions and addressed the briefâ€™s attacks on studies that have found no differences among outcomes of children raised by straight parents versus children raised by gay parents.
Just a few days before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the same-sex-marriage cases, RegnerusÂ bloggedÂ about the American Academy of Pediatricsâ€™ recent endorsement of gay marriage, writing that the few population-based studies on gay parenting â€“ presumably including his own â€“ â€œseem to foster skepticism about moving quickly or universally to deny children their right to a mom and a dad.â€
â€œThe science on same-sex parenting remains comparatively new, unable to keep up with political and legal developments,â€ he wrote. â€œBut those few population-based studies that exist â€” that map whatâ€™s going on across the country â€” seem to foster skepticism about moving quickly or universally to deny children their right to a mom and a dad. Itâ€™s not a popular position, of course. In the end, we all want children to thrive. Many organizations and scholars assert that same-sex marriage is a step toward that end, ensuring household stability. Others remain skeptical, and wonder whether this isnâ€™t more about parentsâ€™ wishes than those of children.â€
Additionally, Regnerus isÂ listedÂ as one of the featured speakers at the summerâ€™s It Takes a Family to Raise a Village conference in San Diego, sponsored by the Ruth Institute. Former George Mason University economics professor Jennifer Roback Morse founded the Ruth Institute in 2008 and was a prominent supporter of Californiaâ€™s gay marriage ban. Her group, which became affiliated with the National Organization for Marriage in 2009, has frequently been called out by LGBT-rights groups and bloggers for promotinganti-gay rhetoricÂ and so-calledÂ â€œex-gayâ€ therapy.
Carlos Maza, a researcher at Equality Matters, an LGBT-focused initiative of Media Matters for America, attended last yearâ€™s It Takes a Family conference undercover andcaught on tapeÂ speakers referencing Regnerusâ€™ study to support attacks on gay people raising children. Jenet Jacob Erickson, an assistant professor at Brigham Young Universityâ€™s School of Family Life, was recorded citing the study in support of the claim that same-sex relationships are â€œdysfunctional and erratic and not stable.â€
Regnerus did not respond to requests for comment.
The Ruth Institute and the National Organization for Marriage are among the Witherspoon Instituteâ€™s many allied organizations â€“ several of which share founders, board members, and resourcesÂ â€“ that have helped the New Family Structures Study fulfill its purpose: to challenge the increasingly popular belief among the mainstream social science community that kids raised by gay parents turn out fine. At least from the Witherspoon Instituteâ€™s perspective, the studyâ€™s ultimate purpose was to provide the court with evidence that banning gay marriage is in the publicâ€™s interest, based on the reasoning that heterosexual family structures are superior.
Already, the study has had this effect, at least for one justice on the Supreme Court.
ArguingÂ before the court in defense of Californiaâ€™s gay-marriage ban, attorney Charles Cooper appeared to be struggling to come up with reasons why gay marriage harms or denigrates â€œtraditional opposite-sex marriage couples.â€ Justice Antonin Scalia, known for his politically conservative views, interjected â€“ bringing up kids, and sociology.
â€œMr. Cooper, let me â€” let me give you one â€” one concrete thing,â€ Scalia said. â€œI donâ€™t know why you donâ€™t mention some concrete things. If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must â€” you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and thereâ€™s -Â thereâ€™s considerable disagreement among â€” among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a â€” in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not â€” do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason. â€¦ I donâ€™t think we know the answer to that. Do you know the answer to that, whether it â€“ whether it harms or helps the child?â€
â€œNo, Your Honor. And thereâ€™s â€“ thereâ€™s â€“â€ Cooper responded.
â€œBut thatâ€™s a possible deleterious effect, isnâ€™t it?â€ Scalia said. He later added, â€œI take no position on whether itâ€™s harmful or not, but it is certainly true that â€” that thereâ€™s no scientific answer to that question at this point in time.â€
Cooper did not directly answer the question, but he agreed with Scaliaâ€™s point â€“ and argued that the plaintiffs have to prove that gay marriage will cause no harm to straight married couples. Not only that, but he said plaintiffs have to prove that â€œthat itâ€™s beyond debate that there will be no harm.â€
On the same day the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Proposition 8 case, gay-marriage foes gathered at the National Mall for a rally organized by the National Organization of Marriage. Organizers passed out brochures titled â€œWhat You Need to Know about Marriage: Questions & Answers Driving the Debate.â€ In addition to NOM, the brochureâ€™s listed sponsors included the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, and the Heritage Foundation, all social conservative groups based in Washington, D.C.
The first â€œconsequence of redefining marriageâ€ listed in the brochure is that, â€œRedefining marriage would hurt children. Decades of social science â€“ including very recent and robust studies â€“ show that children do better when raised by a married mom and dad.â€
The endnotes cited Regnerusâ€™ New Family Structures Study findings to support this claim.
Image:Â Gay-marriage friends and foes gather in front of U.S. Supreme Court as justices hear arguments in the U.S. v. Windsor, surrounding the Defense of Marriage Act, March 27, 2013 (THE AMERICAN INDEPENDENT/Sofia Resnick).
This article originally appeared atÂ The American IndependentÂ and is republished here by permission, and with deep gratitude.
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On World AIDS Day, DOJ Says Tennessee Law Discriminates Against Those With HIV
The Department of Justice celebrated World AIDS Day by calling out a Tennessee law that discriminates against people with HIV.
The DOJ released a report Friday that the state’s aggravated prostitution law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A person arrested under the aggravated prostitution law is normally changed with a misdemeanor, and faces up to six months in prison and a $500 fine. However, if the person arrested has HIV, the crime becomes a felony, and if they’re convicted, they would face between three and 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law is outdated, has no basis in science, discourages testing and further marginalizes people living with HIV,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “People living with HIV should not be treated as violent sex offenders for the rest of their lives solely because of their HIV status. The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination.”
The law was originally passed in 1991. It classifies HIV-positive sex workers as violent sex offenders, according to WKRN-TV. This means that in addition to the sentence, those convicted are put on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, usually for the rest of their lives.
The DOJ advised the state—and particularly, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, which enforces the statute most frequently, the department says—to stop enforcing the law. It also calls on the state to repeal the law and remove anyone from the registry when aggravated prostitution is the only offense. If this doesn’t happen, Tennessee could face a lawsuit.
Tennessee isn’t the only state to have laws applying to only those living with HIV. In 1988, Michigan passed a law requiring those with HIV to disclose their status before sex, according to WLNS-TV. The law is still on the books, but was updated in 2019 to lift the requirement if the HIV-positive person has an undetectable viral load. The law now also requires proof that the person set out to transmit HIV.
Laws like these can work against public health efforts, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH says these types of laws can make people less likely to be tested for HIV, as people cannot be punished if they didn’t know their status. In addition, critics say, the laws can be used to further discriminate. A Canadian study found a disproportionate number of Black men had been charged under HIV exposure laws.
World AIDS Day was first launched in 1988 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations to highlight awareness of the then-relatively new disease. The theme of the 2023 World AIDS Day is “Let Communities Lead,” calling on community leaders to end the AIDS epidemic.
Featured image by UNIS Vienna/Flickr via Creative Commons License.
John Fetterman Says Bob Menendez ‘Senator for Egypt,’ Should Be Expelled Next
Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) called Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) a “senator for Egypt,” and said he needed to be expelled from Congress, much like the now-former Representative George Santos.
Fetterman appeared on The View on Friday. The live broadcast aired as Santos had been kicked out of the House. When host Joy Behar asked what he thought of the vote, Fetterman immediately replied, “I’m not surprised.”
“If you are going to expel Santos, how can you allow somebody like Menendez to remain in the Senate? And, you know, Santos’ kind of lies were almost, you know, funny,” Fetterman said. “Menendez, I think is really a senator for Egypt, you know, not New Jersey. So I really think he needs to go.”
Host Sunny Hostin then asked if Fetterman was uncomfortable with expelling Menendez, as, like with Santos, he had only been indicted, not convicted.
“He has the right for his day in court and all of it, but he doesn’t have the right to to have those kinds of votes and things. That’s not a right,” he said. “I think we need to make that kind of decision to send him out.”
This September, Menendez was indicted on corruption charges. He is accused of accepting bribes of cash, gold and a car, as well as giving “highly sensitive” information about U.S. Embassy staffers in Cairo to the Egyptian government, according to USA Today. Menendez was forced to step down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was replaced by Ben Cardin, Maryland’s Democratic senator.
Menendez denied wrongdoing, and has refused to resign, despite many calls to do so from both Democrats and Republicans.
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” Menendez said in a statement following his indictment. “Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists.”
This is not Menendez’s first brush with the law. Menendez was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges. He was accused of helping Salomon Melgen, one of Menendez’s campaign contributors, by intervening in a dispute with federal regulators and helping Melgen get a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.
In 2017, Menendez’s trial ended with a hung jury, and the Department of Justice declined to retry the case, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Menendez denied all wrongdoing.
House Votes to Boot George Santos 311-114
Representative George Santos (R-NY) has been expelled from Congress following a 311-114 vote; two House members voted “present.”
The expulsion of Santos follows a debate on his fate on Thursday. The vote required a two-thirds majority, or 290 of the 435-seat chamber. This is Santos’ third vote of expulsion; last month, a vote failed with 31 Democrats voting against, according to The Hill.
While the vote was decisive, some notable Republicans voted to save Santos, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN).
“We’ve not whipped the vote and we wouldn’t,” Johnson told CNN Wednesday. “I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith. I personally have real reservations about doing this, I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.”
Santos himself had harsh words for the House following the vote. Leaving the capitol building, he briefly spoke with reporters.
“The House spoke that’s their vote. They just set new dangerous precedent for themselves,” he told CNN. “Why would I want to stay here? To hell with this place.”
He then cut his time short, telling reporters, “You know what? As unofficially no longer a member of Congress, I no longer have to answer your questions.”
Santos also faces 23 federal charges, which include fraud, money laundering and misuse of campaign funds, according to CNN. He has pleaded not guilty. An Ethics Committee report found evidence that Santos used campaign funds for Botox and even an OnlyFans account.
On Thursday, Santos said he refused to resign because otherwise, “they win.”
“If I leave the bullies take place. This is bullying,” Santos said. “The reality of it is it’s all theater, theater for the cameras and theater for the microphones. Theater for the American people at the expense of the American people because no real work’s getting done.”
Santos also threatened to file a resolution to expel Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). Bowman pulled a fire alarm in September. Bowman pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, and said it was an accident. He said he thought the fire alarm would open a locked door as he rushed to a vote. Bowman paid a $1,000 fine.
There have only been six total expulsions from the House, including Santos. Santos is the only Republican to ever be expelled from the House.
The previous expulsion was in 2002, when Representative James Traficant (D-OH) was expelled after a 420-1 vote. Traficant had been convicted on 10 counts of corruption-related crimes.
Before Traficant, Representative Michael “Ozzie” Myers (D-PA) was the first representative of the modern era to be expelled. Myers got the boot following his conviction for accepting bribes. Myers couldn’t keep out of trouble; in 2022, he was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges of election fraud.
Prior to Myers, the only expulsions from the House were in 1861, at the start of the Civil War. Henry Cornelius Burnett (D-KY), John William Reid (D-MO) and John Bullock Clark (Whig-MO) were all expelled for joining the Confederacy.
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