Texas University Releases Regnerus Parenting Study Documents

The University of Texas at Austin has begun releasing university records surrounding UT sociology professor Mark Regnerus’ controversial “New Family Structures Study,” following the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s recent ruling in favor of an American Independent records request.

Shortly after Regnerus’ initial findings were published in June 2012, TAI filed multiple open-records requests with UT for documents and communications related to the study. It has taken numerous months, with the university arguing that the requested information was not subject to the state’s open records law. UT made various arguments asserting that all of the requested information was exempt from disclosure, such as citing an internal investigation over the study, arguing that technological and scientific information requested was proprietary, and arguing that some of the requested communications were personal.

In December the attorney general issued an opinion that UT had to turn over a number of the documents, the first batch of which was released to TAI late last week.

We’ll make these documents available after we review them.

Our interest in these records lies in wanting to better understand the process behind the NFSS study design, as well as the relationship between the study’s conservative funders, particularly the Witherspoon Institute, and the research team.

Regnerus’ initial paper, published in Social Science Research, suggested that children of gay and lesbian parents fare worse than children raised by a married mom and dad — comparing children raised in households with two biological parents to children raised in families where one parent at some point had a same-sex relationship, regardless of whether the child lived with that parent. The study faced a barrage of criticism for what many sociologists and journalists have deemed to be faulty comparisons.

The study survived a scientific misconduct investigation prompted by New Civil Rights Movement blogger Scott Rose, which found no evidence of wrongdoing. Last November, Social Science Research released an internal audit of Regnerus’ study, which found no instances of wrongdoing within the publishing and peer-review process. However, Darren Sherkat, an outspoken critic of Regnerus who conducted the audit, concluded that Regnerus’ paper and the companion piece written by Louisiana State University professor Loren Marks should never have been published.

Despite all of the criticism, this research has been promoted and lauded by opponents of same-sex marriage and has been used on several occasions in federal court to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and bans on same-sex marriage. Just this week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Hollingsworth v. Perry set to determine whether California’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional. In the brief, Regnerus’ paper is cited to support the statement, “A mother and father each bring something unique and irreplaceable to child-rearing that the other cannot.”

The study still has opportunities to be influential, though now that Regnerus has uploaded the NFSS data to the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan, other social scientists have the opportunity to study the data and come to their own conclusions.

Regnerus himself has continued scrutinizing the NFSS data and blogging about various associations, such as a correlation between women’s desire for sex and their political leanings and a correlation between men’s porn use and their support for same-sex marriage, concluding: “young adult men’s support for redefining marriage may not be entirely the product of ideals about expansive freedoms, rights, liberties, and a noble commitment to fairness. It may be, at least in part, a byproduct of regular exposure to diverse and graphic sex acts.”

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