Anti-gay groups and LGBT activists alike have spent the past few days arguing over a new study which allegedly finds that children of gay parents are worse off than the children of married, heterosexual parents. The study – conducted by associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus – has been the subject of intense criticism because of its deeply flawed methodology and misleading conclusions.
Lost in the debate, however, has been a discussion of what proponents of the study are actually suggesting about same-sex parents. If the study is correct, what do anti-gay activists believe it proves about gay people in general?
One of the study's most disturbing findings is that children with gay parents reported significantly higher rates of sexual abuse – including rape – by parents or adult figures as kids than children raised by married, heterosexual parents. It's unclear why rates of abuse differ between the two groups, but anti-gay activists have touted the finding as evidence of the long-disproven “gays are pedophiles” myth.
American Family Association (AFA) spokesman Bryan Fischer cited the study as evidence that allowing gay couples to adopt is "a form of sexual abuse." Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) referenced the study while arguing “you're more likely basically to get molested in a household led by two lesbians."
The claim that gays and lesbians are more likely to molest children than heterosexuals is one of the oldest and most damaging myths about homosexuality in American politics. It's the kind of homophobic propaganda that usually distinguishes typical anti-gay organizations from actual anti-gay hate groups. It's not all that surprising, then, that groups like AFA and AFTAH are so eager to promote the Regnerus study.
What's disturbing about the reaction to the study, though, is how widely it's been embraced by “moderate” anti-gay activists and organizations that have typically shied away from this kind of rhetoric. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has offered its enthusiastic endorsement of the study, as have Fox News' Dr. Keith Ablow, National Review Online's Ed Whelan, Focus on the Family, the New Jersey Family Policy Council, and others.
The biggest problem with Regenerus' study isn't just that it's junk science – it's that it gives mainstream conservatives a license to promote one of the most extreme anti-gay smears imaginable under the guise of advancing legitimate scientific inquiry.
When all is said and done, Regnerus' study won't end up providing any useful information about the impact of same-sex parenting. It will, however, reveal volumes about those who are so aggressively championing it.