Mark Regnerus
Image via Right Wing Watch

Mark Regnerus has a new post at the blog of Witherspoon Institute. It is titled: The Future of American Sexuality and Family: Five Key Trends. According to Dr. Regnerus, married gay couples are extremely prosperous but few in number. Regnerus is relying on a recent paper published by Tax Policy Center. As an aside, check out their three-digit zip code sort of same-sex marriages.

The problem is obvious. Only through joint returns can we glean some insight into same-sex marriage. Individual tax filers do not provide evidence one way or the other. The Center’s policy brief outlines the many challenges and admits to many assumptions. It is good work. Just not authoritative.

Regnerus is honest enough to include the fact that two-thirds of Americans approve of same-sex marriage. However, I think that his real point (at this ultra-conservative Catholic outlet) is described with this verbiage:

Will same-sex marriage rates increase? As I wrote in Cheap Sex, I doubt it. Gallup data reveals a modest uptick in Americans reporting being married to someone of the same sex—six-tenths of one percentage point—between the first and second years after Obergefell. That’s not exactly the outcome you’d expect from pent-up demand. Some hold that the Obergefell case is enabling yet further changes in American family and sexual behavior. Toward that end, there is evidence of rising same-sex sexual behavior at levels outpacing that of growth in the share of Americans who identify as gay or lesbian.

That is a somewhat selective observation because the major change in states recognizing same-sex marriage occurred in the wake of United States v. Windsor (the DOMA case) which was decided in 2013. Massachusetts marriage equality goes back to 2004. So the pent-up demand is not as significant as Regnerus suggests.

Regnerus might be repeating a familiar trope which was that gay people never really wanted to marry in the first place. The number of marriages is not related to the constitutional right to marry or the demand for the constitutional right to marry. The entire issue has no relevance to popularity of the outcome instrument.

Without citing any evidence, Regnerus claims that Obergefell has caused more straight people to experiment with gay sex while claiming that evidence exists. It is the “we’re going to Hell in a handbag” pleading. Those dastardly gay marriages have ruined our collective morality. The Catholic Church was right to be so heavily invested in marriage discrimination.

Even if there is an increase in gay-sex experimentation it would be nearly impossible to separate causation from correlation in regards to the ruling in Obergefell. Regnerus is an accomplished researcher. Surely he knows the importance of identifying the evidence that he says exists.

I am not an accomplished researcher and I cannot figure out how someone would acquire a representative sample of straight people who have had gay sex. Then one has to separate them into two cohorts; pre and post-Obergefell. I am not surprised that Regnerus cannot cite the evidence that he says exists.

The point seems to be that Obergefell has had a corrupting influence on American morality. It might be an effort to claim that opponents of marriage equality were right. In my obviously biased opinion, married gay couples might be morally superior to gay couples who are shacking up.

Now let’s journey to trans-world.

If there was an immediate legacy of the Obergefell case—a cause célèbre birthed by the legal success of same-sex marriage—it is the transgender movement. Unlike marriage, which managed to unite gay and lesbian Americans, the support base for the transgender issue seems to have emerged from somewhat different corners.

Again, Regnerus has a causation/correlation problem. What has really happened is (for starters) a change in the therapeutic approach. Ten years ago doctors and counsellors did everything possible to prevent young people suffering with gender dysphoria from transitioning. Over time this changed as research demonstrated the mental health benefits of allowing young people to transition. The American Academy of Pediatrics has now gone so far as to identify the gender-affirmative care model as best practice.

In addition, in 2013 — at the very beginning of his papacy — Pope Francis began railing against “gender theory.” Who knew that the pope is a board certified psychiatrist? In any event Francis lit the advocacy fuse.

The advocacy caused a change in public school policy which created a religious backlash. While the number of gender dysphoric children probably remained about the same, the appearance is that of a movement. A movement which caused Ryan T. Anderson to write his idiotic book which engendered more advocacy which resulted in more religious opprobrium and so on. At least that is my theory and it has little or nothing to do with Obergefell.

Regnerus reverts to form:

Unlike homosexuality, which is often publicly undiscerned and privately unrevealed until late adolescence or early adulthood, the transgender moment seems to hinge more directly on children, teenagers, and supportive parents. Moreover, transgender matters entail “transition” decisions to be made about the body—ones that can have irreversible effects. Hormonal treatments to delay or prevent puberty or menarche, for example, can prompt permanent infertility, while surgeries replace functional (but unwanted) organs with sculpted substitutes. Adolescent and youth transgender claims are nevertheless surging, creating conflicts over pronouns, bathrooms, and sports teams, to name just three domains.

Puberty blockers are not hormones (the are actually hormone suppressors) and they are fully reversible. And let’s not talk about surgery and teens in the same breath. Most transgender people (I estimate) have not had gender-affirming surgery and it is rare until adulthood. Regnerus offers no evidence to support his claimed surge.

Most importantly, though, transgender and gender nonconforming children are not causing conflicts. Those are caused by religious people who are trying to conform science to scripture. These people refuse to accept the scientific fact that gender is a separate construct from natal sex. They even lack the simple decency to use proper pronouns and you would think that a trans girl using a gender-appropriate restroom is a serial rapist. Conservative Christians can stop the conflict at will.

Brown University professor Lisa Littman, writing in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS One, documented the reality of the rapid onset of gender dysphoria (ROGD) in adolescents. By “rapid” she means that it happens suddenly either during or after puberty among teenagers who displayed no indications of such tendency in their childhood.

Littman is an assistant professor and likely untenured. Again, Regnerus is an accomplished researcher. He knows full well that Littman’s sample is bullshit. He fails to mention that the article is under re-review. I have been trying to get the article pulled until the review is complete. I have courteous replies but no success.

More journeys in handbags:

“Queer” has gone mainstream.

Most of the growth in non-heterosexual self-identification nevertheless has come in the form of bisexuality. This is also true of behavior. In the past twenty-five years, in fact, most of the growth in same-sex sexual activity has come from those who report both men and women as partners. The share of the population that reports at least one partner of the same-sex has grown from 3.6 to 8.7 percent of women and from 4.5 to 8.2 percent of men.

I have only two objections. One it is not “growth.” It is “reported growth” which has many variables. Secondly, I am not comfortable with Regnerus using the word “queer.” It’s not his to use.

Regnerus’ fourth point about cohabiting couples having less sex doesn’t interest me. The fifth point, however, is interesting:

Divorce rates are dropping (because marriage rates are dropping).

One of the reasons for pessimism about the long-term uptake of same-sex marriage is because short-term interest in marriage continues to turn cold, with rates tracking downward for well over forty years. To suggest that same-sex marriage might invigorate a lagging institution, showing straight Americans how to get hitched again, is silly. People don’t work like that.

I do not have Regnerus’ PhD but “rates” usually means percentages and the first is independent of the second. In other words (and total fiction for an example): 30% of apartment renters change their address within two years. 60% of Americans rent apartments. Now if the number of renters drops to 55%, why would the percentage of early movers change? Fewer renters might change the number of early movers but not the rate.

I hope that Regnerus is not suggesting that we claimed that marriage equality would reinvigorate marriage in general. I read everything that Evan Wolfson and several others put out and I never saw anything like that. Gays are less than 5% of the population. It’s hard to imagine that we have much influence over the marriage habits of the other 95%. In fact we claimed that marriage equality would have no effect on so-called traditional marriage.

I think that we can assume that marriage equality has not caused divorce rates to go up (as promised by the religious right). Regnerus confirms that fact.

Mark Regnerus is not evil. Rather, he is conflicted by efforts to get science and rational conclusions to conform to Church dogma. When those things coincide it is by pure chance. It is the contest of faith vs. evidence.

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