Mark Regnerus

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Mark Regnerus
Mark Daniel Regnerus

(1970-12-31) December 31, 1970 (age 51)
Known forResearch into LGBT parenting
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisAdolescent Socialization and Avoiding Trouble (2000)
Doctoral advisorChristian Smith
Academic work
Sub-disciplineSociology of religion
Notable worksNew Family Structures Study Edit this at Wikidata

Mark Daniel Regnerus (born December 31, 1970[1]) is a sociologist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin.[2] His main fields of interest are sexual behavior, relationship dynamics, and religion.


Regnerus graduated from McBain Rural Agricultural High School in McBain, Michigan, in 1989. He then attended Trinity Christian College, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology in 1993. He then earned his Master of Arts degree in 1997 and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2000 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[3] His doctoral dissertation, Adolescent Socialization and Avoiding Trouble: A Perspective on Religious Influences,[4] was written under the direction of Christian Smith, with whom he subsequently co-wrote several articles about religion and social behavior. He then was postdoctoral researcher at the Carolina Population Center before taking a position as assistant professor at Calvin College, where he remained until 2002. He accepted a position as assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, and advanced to associate professor in 2007, and to full professor in 2018.[5]


Earlier in his career, Regnerus studied the influence of religion on adolescent and young-adult behavior.[6] His article "Sex is Cheap"[7] was the ninth-most downloaded article at Slate in 2011.[8] His books include Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying, Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers,[9] and Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy,[10] all published by Oxford University Press.

Same-sex relationships controversy[edit]

Regnerus has conducted research on the impact of a child having a parent who has been involved in a same-sex relationship. A 2012 population-based study of his in Social Science Research[11] concluded that people who had had a parent who had been in a same-gender relationship were at a greater risk of several adverse outcomes, including "being on public assistance, being unemployed, and having poorer educational attainment."[12] This generated protracted debate and controversy.[13][14] This included a disavowal by Regnerus's department chair at the University of Texas-Austin, in which Christine L. Williams cites the American Sociological Association, "which takes the position that the conclusions he draws from his study of gay parenting are fundamentally flawed on conceptual and methodological grounds and that findings from Dr. Regnerus’ work have been cited inappropriately in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LBGTQ partners and their families."[15] Two hundred social scientists, led by Gary Gates, signed the "Letter to the editors and advisory editors of Social Science Research",[16] in which they express their concern "about the academic integrity of the peer review process for this paper as well as its intellectual merit."[17] Regnerus continues to defend the research.[18][19]

The controversy also resulted in an audit of the review process used by Social Science Research.[20] Critics have largely focused their attention on the few same-sex relationships in the data, faulting Regnerus for comparing the adult children of intact (heterosexual) families with those whose parents may have purportedly formed same sex relationships after the dissolution of a heterosexual union.[21][22]

In June 2012, 27 scholars signed a defense of Regnerus's research, stating: "we think much of the public and academic response to Regnerus is misguided for three reasons."[23] They also argue that "it is possible to interpret Regnerus's findings as evidence for the need for legalized gay marriage, in order to support the social stability of such relationships", which contrasts with Regnerus's own conclusion published in Slate: "[this study] may suggest that the household instability that the NFSS reveals is just too common among same-sex couples to take the social gamble of spending significant political and economic capital to esteem and support this new (but tiny) family form".[24]

Major academic organizations including the American Sociological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Medical Association dispute the validity of Regnerus's data and conclusions reached thereof, arguing that unlike previous studies, the statistically tiny number of same sex couples in a study whose sample group largely consisted of failed heterosexual marriages where one of the parents was allegedly homosexual, make it impossible to extrapolate any information about same sex parenting. A review carried out by the American Medical Association noted that:[21]

... The data does not show whether the perceived romantic relationship ever in fact occurred; nor whether the parent self-identified as gay or lesbian; nor whether the same sex relationship was continuous, episodic, or one-time only; nor whether the individual in these categories was actually raised by a homosexual parent (children of gay fathers are often raised by their heterosexual mothers following divorce), much less a parent in a long-term relationship with a same-sex partner. Indeed, most of the participants in these groups spent very little, if any, time being raised by a “same-sex couple.”[21]

Some[who?] argue that the project's funding source, the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank, ultimately biased the results;[25][26] New York Times writer Mark Oppenheimer speculated that Regnerus's Catholic faith may have shaped the way he approached the study of same-sex relationships.[13] When asked whether his funding source (the Witherspoon Institute) is conservative, Regnerus responded by stating, "Yes. And the Ford Foundation is a pretty liberal one. Every academic study is paid for by someone. I’ve seen excellent studies funded by all sorts of interest groups."[27] His relationship with Witherspoon continued after the New Family Structures Study. According to Regnerus's financial disclosures for the year 2013, after the study's publication, that same organization paid him between $20,000 and $39,999.99 to “[design], [organize] and [lead] a several-day seminar for graduate students in June 2013 on the conceptual foundations involved in contemporary sociological thought and the conduct of social science research" and other related consulting work.[28]

Regnerus contributed to an amicus brief in opposition to same-sex marriage[29] and appeared as an expert witness in a 2014 federal court hearing regarding Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage. Citing widespread criticism of NFSS methodology, Judge Bernard A. Friedman rejected Regnerus's testimony, alleging the arguments derived from methodologically flawed data were "not worthy of serious consideration" and served rather to please the conservative organizations (Witherspoon Institute and Bradley Foundation) that underwrote the survey research project.[30] Then-University of Texas' College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl wrote in a 2015 post-tenure review conclusion letter obtained by University of Texas' Daily Texan that "Because the design of the study ensured that the parental same-sex relationship variable was confounded with the family structure stability variable, it is not possible to conclude that the different life outcomes between the two groups were caused by the parental relationship policy implications about same-sex parenting should be drawn from the study.”[31]

The public and academic reaction to Regnerus's research has been referred to as a "witch hunt" by his former mentor Christian Smith.[32][33] In his book The Sacred Project of American Sociology, Smith calls this backlash a result of the content of sociology's "sacred project" (of mitigating oppression, inequality, etc.); Smith argued that the critical reaction e.g. on methodological issues displayed a set of double standards insofar as work by other scholars could be (but is generally not) subjected to similar criticism.[34] Smith said that "The push-back" to Regnerus's article "is coming simply because some people don't like where the data led."[32]


During a speech at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2014 titled "What Sexual Behavior Patterns Reveal about the Mating Market and Catholic Thought", Regnerus's views on same-sex relationships continued to spread controversy when he claimed that "normalization of gay men's sexual behavior" in society will contribute to a surge in the "practice of heterosexual anal sex."[35][36] In March 2019, Regnerus joined other conservative writers to reject the "pre-Trump conservative consensus" which combined Libertarian economics with social liberalism. They alleged American Conservatism had "surrendered to the pornographization of daily life, to the culture of death, to the cult of competitiveness" and a "poisonous and censorious multiculturalism." The statement went on to criticize the cutting of the "link between sex and gender", legal abortion, a "borderless world" fueling "attempts to displace American citizens", and business leaders and political parties which "held investors and 'job creators' above workers and citizens." It called for greater emphasis on local communities and "prioritiz[ing] work over consumption."[37]

Regarding the connection between one's faith and the activities of Christian professors, Regnerus noted in an alumni profile that "I believe that if your faith matters, it should inform what you teach and what you research".[13]


In 1999 and 2001 Regnerus won the Distinguished Article Award from the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association.[6]


  • Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy (Oxford University Press, 2017)
  • The Future of Christian Marriage (Oxford University Press, 2020)


  1. ^ Library of Congress Authorities, Library of Congress, Library of Congress authority ID no2003108022, Wikidata Q13219454, retrieved 24 June 2022
  2. ^ "Sociology - UT College of Liberal Arts". 17 February 2015.
  3. ^ The University of North-Carolina at Chapel Hill (December 20, 2000). "COMMENCEMENT". p. 15. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  4. ^ Regnerus, Mark Daniel (2000). Adolescent Socialization and Avoiding Trouble: A Perspective on Religious Influences (PhD thesis). Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. OCLC 47088437. ProQuest 304609082.
  5. ^ Reno, R. R. (April 2018). "Permission to Kill". First Things.
  6. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-07-26. Retrieved 2014-07-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "Sex is cheap: Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they're failing in life". Slate Magazine. 25 February 2011.
  8. ^ "Slate's 10 most popular stories of 2011". Slate. 28 December 2011.
  9. ^ Eden, Dawn (August 1, 2007). "Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in Modern Adolescence.(Briefly Noted)(Book review)". First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  10. ^ Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy. Oxford University Press. September 2017. ISBN 978-0-19-067361-1.
  11. ^ How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study Archived 2014-03-29 at the Wayback Machine, Social Science Research, 41: 752-770
  12. ^ Perrin, E. C.; Siegel, B. S. (20 March 2013). "Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents Are Gay or Lesbian" (PDF). Pediatrics. 131 (4): e1374–e1383. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-0377. PMID 23519940.
  13. ^ a b c Mark Oppenheimer, "Sociologist’s Paper Raises Questions on Role of Faith in Scholarship", New York Times, 12 October 2012
  14. ^ Brandon Watson, "UT Distances from Regnerus", The Austin Chronicle, 4 March 2014
  15. ^ "Sociology - UT College of Liberal Arts". 17 February 2015.
  16. ^ Gates, Gary J.; et al. (2012). "Letter to the editors and advisory editors of Social Science Research". Social Science Research. 41 (6): 1350–1351. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.08.008. PMID 23017956.
  17. ^ "200 researchers respond to Regnerus paper". Family Inequality. 29 June 2012.
  18. ^ Regnerus, Mark (2012). "Parental same-sex relationships, family instability, and subsequent life outcomes for adult children: Answering critics of the new family structures study with additional analyses". Social Science Research. 41 (6): 1367–1377. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.08.015. PMID 23017960.
  19. ^ "Mark Regnerus: Defending my research on same-sex parenting".
  20. ^ "Controversial Gay-Parenting Study Is Severely Flawed, Journal's Audit Finds – Percolator - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education".
  21. ^ a b c "Brief of the American Psychological Association, the California Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers and Its California Chapter, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychoanalytic Association as Amici Curiae in Support of Plaintiff - Appellee and in Support of Affirmance" American Medical Association, July 10, 2012 accessed 7 June 2013.
  22. ^ American Sociological Association (February 28, 2013). "Brief of Amicus Curiae American Sociological Association in Support of Respondent Kristin M. Perry and Respondent Edith Schlain Windsor" (PDF).
  23. ^ "A Social Scientific Response to the Regnerus Controversy". Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University. Archived from the original on June 22, 2012.
  24. ^ "Gay parents: are they really no different?". Slate Magazine. 11 June 2012.
  25. ^ "New Family Structures Study Intended To Sway Supreme Court On Gay Marriage, Documents Show". The Huffington Post. 10 March 2013.
  26. ^ "Mark Regnerus' Debunked Anti-LGBT Study Front-and-Center as MI Marriage Equality Trial Begins". Human Rights Campaign.
  27. ^ "Q & A with Mark Regnerus about the background of his new study". Black, White and Gray. 11 June 2012.
  28. ^ Brands, Riley (October 1, 2014). "Regnerus made as much as $40,000 from Witherspoon Institute in 2013". Daily Texan. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  29. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-25. Retrieved 2014-07-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ "Friedman Ruling".
  31. ^ Daily Texan Editorial Board (March 31, 2015). "Liberal Arts dean Diehl shouldn't give Regnerus a pass". Daily Texan. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  32. ^ a b "An Academic Auto-da-Fé". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  33. ^ Robert VerBruggen Archive Latest RSS (19 July 2012). "The Gay-Parenting Witch Hunt - National Review Online". National Review Online.
  34. ^ Smith, Christian. The Sacred Project of American Sociology. Oxford University Press, 2014
  35. ^ "Mark Regnerus Claims Gay Marriage Will Lead Straight Men To Stray, Demand Anal Sex From Women". The Huffington Post. 20 February 2014.
  36. ^ "Underlying Assumptions of Regnerus's Claims". The Huffington Post. 5 March 2014.
  37. ^ Various. "Against the Dead Consensus". First Things. Retrieved July 18, 2019.

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