D. Paul Sullins

Rev. D. Paul Sullins is distressed by an article authored by Hatewatch staff at Southern Poverty Law Center. Parts of the Hatewatch piece are derived from a 2015 article in The Atlantic titled: Using ‘Pseudoscience’ to Undermine Same-Sex Parents.

Father Sullins has retired from his teaching position at Catholic University of America. He is now associated with the anti-LGBT hate group, Ruth Institute. Sullins is the author of numerous anti-gay “studies” of same-sex parenting. Sullins is not a disinterested investigator. In contrast, he strives to confirm the teachings of the Catholic Church: Gay people are disordered, same-sex parenting “does violence” to children and marriage equality is a world-ending event:

The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.

The Hatewatch staff at Southern Poverty Law Center took Sullins to task for his questionable, biased research published to sub-standard vanity journals:

The peer-review process in such journals raises questions, as sociologist Philip Cohen (University of Maryland) noted on his blog in 2015 in an examination of three articles that Sullins published. Cohen acknowledged that Sullins has in the past published in legitimate journals, but his work “now appears to have veered into the netherworld of scam open access journals (which, of course, does not include all open-access journals).”

The Hatewatch piece also cited Dr. Michael Rosenfeld, a prominent professor of sociology at Stanford University:

“Research…has developed a scholarly consensus that shows that children raised by same-sex couples are at no important disadvantage.” He went on to say, “There is a noisy fringe of academics who claim that children raised by same-sex couples are in disastrous peril,” a view that “has little or no credibility within academia.”

One more quote and then I will get to Sullins’ response. The Hatewatch piece cites a 2014 article in the New York Times which explains how we got here. According to that article:

In meetings hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington in late 2010, opponents of same-sex marriage discussed the urgent need to generate new studies on family structures and children, according to recent pretrial depositions of two witnesses in the Michigan trial and other participants. One result was the marshaling of $785,000 for a large-scale study by Mark Regnerus, a meeting participant and a sociologist at the University of Texas who will testify in Michigan.

In other words, these religious conservatives knew that there was no credible way to attack same-sex marriage directly. They decided to attack same-sex marriage by attacking same-sex parenting. The meme that they decided upon was that same-sex marriage is bad for children.

Now on to Sullins who published his Hatewatch complaint to the religious right site, The Stream. It has been re-published to Ruth Institute’s blog.

The title of the piece is: I Am Relieved And Happy To Be Labeled A Hater,’ Says Pro-Family Researcher Targeted by SPLC. Really? A prominent national organization has published an article essentially calling this guy a bigot and he is “relieved?” This is the kind of disingenuous, intellectually dishonest nonsense that causes problems for Sullins in the first place.

The piece is a long-winded “God loves me” treatise. About three-quarters of the way into it, we get to the SPLC matter. The format is Q&A which means that The Stream was able to tee-up softballs and provide Sullins with an aluminum bat. Sullins still manages to whiff.

On my findings, I refer you to Mercatornet for background on the same-sex parenting research and my main study. They pull from my article(s) the reasons why the studies showing no differences are not credible (mostly, small sample sizes). … The Mercatornet piece summarizes a longer defense published in the American College of Pediatricians’ Obergefell brief. I wrote the brief, and you can look that up on Scotusblog.

Mercatornet is an extremist Catholic website hosted in Australia. When it comes to research, blog posts are irrelevant. The American College of Pediatricians (not to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics) is a small hate group. Its president, Michelle Cretella remains a proponent of conversion therapy. Needless to say, the group’s defense of Sullins is neither scholarly nor peer reviewed. It is a defense of the faith.

Sullins dismisses his critics with rhetoric:

For some background, the two scholars cited negatively in Atlantic, i.e., with the “pseudoscience” quote and the dissing of the journal, are both pro-gay activists (Drs. Cohen and Rosenfeld). Their work was cited and rebutted by my study. They had a personal and scholarly interest in undermining it. Atlantic (Emma Green) sought them out, did not inform me she was citing them, and gave me no chance to respond. SPLC (and Atlantic) cite them as random, representative scholars. They’re not.

Scientists who disagree with Sullins are “pro-gay activists.” Well, that settles it. An ad hominem argument is as good as any and Sullins does not cite a respected researcher who agrees with him. Sullins claims to have rebutted Cohen and Rosenfeld which does not mean that he did so successfully or that he did so in a rigorously peer-reviewed journal. If they are not representative, as Sullins claims, then why did he supposedly rebut their research? It makes no sense.

To be fair to Dr. Cohen, who detracted the journals on his blog, walked back his comments to a much softer criticism after I sent him more information about the journals. But Atlantic (and SPLC) just quoted his initial, harsher detraction.

I reviewed the blog post in question by Dr. Cohen and he thoroughly eviscerates both Sullins and Mark Regnerus, In fact, the subheading of his post reads:

Not that child well-being in different kinds of families isn’t a legitimate research topic, but this idea of proving same-sex parents are bad to whip up the right-wing religious base and influence court cases is really a shark jumping over a dead horse.

Moreover, Dr. Cohen remained extremely critical of Sullins’ pay-to-play outlets. For example:

SPLC’s HateWatch unfairly denigrates a few foreign journals where my studies have been published. It doesn’t mention that top journals have published me. The American Journal of Sociology, Contemporary Sociology, Social Forces, Southern Medical Journal, Religion, Sociology of Religion, and the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, for some examples.

Unfair? Criticizing vanity journals with questionable peer-review is unfair? Sullins may have published to respectable journals but the anti-gay material seems to be limited to the vanity varietal. Dr. Cohen’s piece concludes:

Sullins’ judgment is no doubt clouded by his overarching religious objection to homosexuality, which, he believes, like abortion and contraception,

So for him it’s already settled — long before he extruded these papers (and Regnerus has expressed similar views). Apparently they think they just need a few bogus publications to bring the public along.

The lack of scholarship is obvious which limits these questionable pieces to the schlock outlets. Real researchers go with the evidence. Sullins has reached religious conclusions and finds, through selective observation, material to support a predetermined outcome.

I recently published studies on abortion and same-sex parenting in Sage Open Medicine and Demography. They both meet the National Institute of Health’s rigorous standards to be archived in National Library of Medicine. Less than one journal in a hundred qualifies.

The above is true. It is also irrelevant. The fact is that Sullins’ most anti-gay papers have been published to sub-standard outlets. While the SAGE open access journals are more respected they are still pay-to-publish. Demography is, in fact, a respected scholarly journal Sullins’ October, 2017 paper is a commentary on another paper, calling into question the highly technical process of extracting samples from a larger work. Fascinating no doubt but it avoids most of the homophobia that Sullins publishes.

Father Sullins is not a bad person per se. He is simply incapable of drawing any conclusions that challenge the teachings of the Catholic Church. He is, however, dangerous because he is responsible for misinforming vast numbers of people on matters related to same-sex parenting. The spew is not only damaging to gay couples who are parents but it is potentially damaging to the children they are raising.

No child should ever be told that his parents are unsuitable because they are a gay couple. Fortunately, as Dr. Rosenfeld points out, respected researchers repeatedly find that these kids are as healthy, happy and secure as their peers being raised by heterosexual couples. I doubt that they really care about some extremist Catholic priest’s tainted research.

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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.