THE BLOG
03/05/2014 03:20 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Underlying Assumptions of Regnerus's Claims

Dr. Mark Regnerus, a professor in the department where I am a graduate student, has recently returned to the media forefront with his claims about heterosexual anal sex at Franciscan University and with his testimony in Michigan at a federal court trial on gay marriage. At Franciscan University, Regnerus claimed that the rise of gay marriage would lead to the "normalization of gay men's sexual behavior," which will somehow then prompt a rise in heterosexual people practicing anal sex. In Michigan, Regnerus testified on Monday that historically and cross-culturally marriage has been between one man and one woman. He also said that there was "notable instability" in same-sex relationships, though the two children in his study who were raised from birth to 18 years of age by intact same-sex couples "looked pretty good." Putting somewhat aside the veracity of these claims (which should ultimately be empirically investigated by scholars and researchers), I am somewhat perplexed as a sociologist-in-training by the fact that the underlying assumptions in these statements are left unquestioned.

For starters, why is a rise in heterosexual people practicing anal sex negative? Regnerus offered no empirical data to support this claim (and no evidence exists that I know of), but nonetheless, somehow this claim is supposed to make the rise of gay marriage be bad. Anal sex, like various forms of sexual behaviors, can often be pleasurable (and at times, potentially painful), but framing anal sex as a negative outcome of gay marriage denies discussing the complexities of engaging in this sexual act, including the potential erotic benefits it may serve for heterosexual couples. Hell, maybe even engaging in anal sex can spice up the sex lives of some heterosexual relationships, potentially saving a few marriages as well.

Anal sex aside, even if marriage is historically and cross-culturally between one man and one woman (something many academics would emphatically disagree with and the Old Testament of the Bible as well), why is this historical and cross-cultural argument legitimate enough to deny people equal rights? If one used history and culture as a marker for how things should always be then women would still be property to their husbands and people would still own slaves. Of course, social science shows though that culture is always dynamic and things are always changing historically. To claim then that something is the same throughout all of time would actually be ahistorical, erasing how societies and cultures are constantly developing. But more importantly, it uses a false marker -- a static culture -- to cover over the fact that history is often not a good place to look back to in order to determine people's rights in society.

Lastly, Regnerus's statement about same-sex couples exhibiting "notable instability" makes it seem that this trait is inherent to these relationships, effacing the discrimination and structural inequalities that these couples face daily. For instance, these couples may be more unstable than heterosexual relationships because when the children in Regnerus's study were born (before 1993), gay marriage did not even exist. The lack of social support for same-sex relationships, even today, would be to me, a "notable" cause for instability within these relationships. Likewise, same-sex couples and their children often face homophobia and other forms of discrimination that could also render these relationships to be more unstable than heterosexual relationships that are often viewed favorably and unquestionably. For Regnerus to not address the structural inequalities that same-sex couples face is to over-look one of the possible more probable causes of "instability" within these relationships. But with these probable explanations aside, to compare two groups of relationships -- heterosexual couples to homosexual couples -- that do not even receive the same rights and privileges in society is already to completely setup a problematic and unequal comparison.

For me, the underlying assumptions within Regnerus's claims seem stark. Again, many of the issues raised above may potentially be answered empirically in the future. However, to deny these assumptions within one's own research project and one's subsequent claims is to miss the mark on doing rigorous research. Questioning my own assumptions within my research is something that my department has instilled in me, and I only wish it could be modeled by all scholars who are doing important research, especially research on timely political issues such as LGBT rights.

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