Mark Regnerus

Dr. Mark Regnerus, Defender of the Faith™ has taken to the blog of Witherspoon Institute with: Scientists Have Unwittingly Revealed that the Obergefell Decision Did Nothing to Diminish Sexual Minority Distress.

Regnerus doesn’t seem to understand that, in the aftermath of the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, some states were determined to allow public accommodations and even government employees to deny service to gay couples. One of the tactics that has been used is preemption which nullifies municipal nondiscrimination laws.

In June of 2016 the Human Rights Campaign reported that, year to date, state legislatures introduced more than 200 anti-LGBT bills in 34 different states. While most of these bills died for procedural or calendar reasons, many were enacted. This trend has continued over the past two years as legislatures have even permitted adoption agencies to discriminate in spite of the fact that they are doing the work of the state with taxpayer funds.

According to Regnerus:

In a study first appearing online in JAMA Psychiatry on May 23, five public health scholars report that “state laws permitting denial of services to same-sex couples” are associated with mental distress in sexual minority adults who live in those states in a way not visible in surrounding states.

According to the study:

Conclusions and Relevance: Laws permitting denial of services to same-sex couples, which exist in 12 states and are under consideration by the US Supreme Court, are associated with a 46% increase in sexual minority adults experiencing mental distress.

Apparently Regnerus thinks that it is important for people to be able to discriminate against gay couples. He writes:

The implication of the JAMA study is that the Court [in the aftermath of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado has just opened the way for “anti-gay” conscience rights that—according to the study’s authors—have the documented potential to erode the mental health of sexual minorities. It certainly is an intriguing claim Here’s the story. Utah, Michigan, and North Carolina each passed “laws permitting denial of services to same-sex couples” in the spring of 2015. and possibility, and the study deserves a closer look.

And a “eureka!”

The study’s key finding is that 22 percent of sexual minorities in Utah, Michigan, and North Carolina reported mental distress in 2014, but 33 percent did so in 2016, a notable and significant uptick. Why? That is the pivotal question. Even in the six nearby comparison states—where no such laws were recently enacted—distress climbed, but only modestly. The authors document a statistically significant “multiplicative interaction effect” between sexual minority status and laws permitting denial of services to same-sex couples, meaning mental distress worsened among this group, but only if they lived in one of those three states.

I do not want to further confuse correlation with causation. Nevertheless, let’s take Michigan as an example. There are no laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. By the fall of 2017 the legislature had failed 11 times to pass such measures. When such legislation is pending it puts enormous stress on LGBT people as they entertain increasing rhetoric from right-wing, mostly Christian, pressure groups.

In addition to the stress induced by the process, the frustration was mounting. But let us go back a bit to an earlier sentence from Regnerus:

Here’s the story. Utah, Michigan, and North Carolina each passed “laws permitting denial of services to same-sex couples” in the spring of 2015.

Has he not answered his own question? With gay couples being able to marry as of approximately July 1, 2015, the full brunt of those laws would not be felt until 2016. Obviously they were less relevant and less stress-inducing prior to marriage equality. Gay couples finally realized that they had the constitutional right to marry one day and get fired the next day for having done so. They also realized that the state authorized discrimination in adoption services.

The bottom line is that, in spite of the victory in Obergefell, gay couples were the recipients of more discrimination and felt more prejudice in its aftermath. Nothing causes a minority more stress and distress than discrimination.

I should mention that North Carolina’s HB2 was passed in March, 2016. It nullified local nondiscrimination laws and the process put tremendous pressure on LGBT citizens. I would be amazed if distress did not increase.

Utah is very difficult to understand because it is a theocracy within a secular nation. The internal workings of the LDS Church affect LGBT citizens in ways that are not always apparent.

Regnerus goes on to write:

What I am in search of is a sensible explanation for why sexual minorities’ mental distress would worsen in the year after Obergefell—the mother of all victories—rather than improve? Indeed, it would appear there was no Obergefell benefit for the mental health of sexual minorities in these data, regardless of where they lived.

Were Regnerus not predisposed to view gay rights as an affront to the Church he might have reached the same conclusions as I did and neither of us can draw any inferences from conditions in Utah.

Regnerus devotes several paragraphs to sowing confusion and doubt. He concludes:

In the end, we’re left to speculate about a truly odd result. Is it possible that mental distress doesn’t get better for sexual minorities? Or—as the logic of this study implies—is it that it won’t get better until conscientious objection is no longer permitted?

Talk about begging the question. Contrary to his assertion, the findings are not truly odd and he is suggesting that gay people have mental distress because they are gay. After all, in spite of being a social scientist, Regnerus subscribes to Church dogma that gay people are objectively disordered.

Regnerus is one of the founders of Austin Institute. The president of that nonprofit is Luis Tellez. Tellez is also president of Witherspoon Institute and one of the founders of National Organization for Marriage. Tellez in an Opus Dei numerary (a secular celibate). Regnerus also has a history that is well known.

But let’s talk about conscientious objection. Regnerus probably knows that Catholic Charities in Boston was placing children with gay couples until marriage equality came to town. Only then did the bishops get involved and stop the agency from providing adoption services rather than comply with Massachusetts law. Call me a cynic but could the Church have taken action to manufacture a victim of gay marriage as a warning to other states? Did they also think that they were punishing the state (which seems to have survived in the absence of their adoption agency)?

It seems that consciences changed with the politics. Conscientious objection is a military term. In this country, a draftee could avoid having to kill people on the basis of religion or other constraint (they often served as medics, some quite heroically). I can understand a projection of the objection to abortion but nobody dies when a gay couple is married. We have come to assume that these objections are reasonable when they should be scrutinized.

At no point in the Masterpiece saga did the Supreme Court entertain the nature of the objection. Just because Jack Phillips doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage, how would he violate his conscience by designing a cake? Did he apply the same  logic to previously divorced people or a bride who walked into the shop noticeably pregnant?

Or was the real compelling force the need to find a way to express disapproval? Why would we ever allow someone to deny service as a way of shaming people he disapproves of?

We have been taught, and correctly so, that it is impolite to question people’s motives. However, when their actions hurt other people then their motives should be subject to scrutiny.

As for Dr. Regnerus, science is supposed to be a secular endeavor; one that is based on evidence. He sure as hell understands the Minority Stress Model better than I do, if he chooses to do so. Regnerus has seemingly become incapable of separating that from his belief system which is based on faith. He also seems to believe that with faith comes privilege to do harm to others. We need to figure out how to confront Regnerus and others as they continue to tear at the basic values of American fairness and equality.

Related content:

By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.