Sloppy American Research Weaponized in Czech Same-Sex Marriage Debates

Mahulena Kopecká (investigace.cz) 2024-04-17
Mahulena Kopecká (investigace.cz) 2024-04-17

In a discussion of an amendment to the Civil Code that would allow for the possibility of same-sex marriage, Jan Sila, an MP from SPD party (Freedom and Direct Democracy) used a study by American sociologist Mark Regnerus as a counterargument. “Regnerus concludes his entire study by saying that the existing expert claims that there are no significant differences between offspring growing up in homoparental families and offspring from biological families with a father and mother are not sustainable — that is the conclusion,” Sila said.

In the United States, this study is broadly considered to be of poor quality and lacking evidence. However, in the Czech Republic, it is often cited by opponents of same-sex unions. Regnerus’s research has been supported by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think tank. Mark Regnerus has visited the Czech Republic several times at the invitation of the Czech organization Alliance for the Family.

A conservative sociologist 

At the invitation of the Alliance for the Family, Mark Regnerus came to the Czech Republic to give several lectures. At the end of March 2022, Regnerus spoke at the CEVRO Institute in Prague, in Brno and in České Budějovice. “Be sure to invite your friends and acquaintances who also care about the state of marriage and family. It will be worth it,” said Jana Jochová, chair of the Alliance, in a press release. According to the Alliance, the American sociologist is concerned with “the state of the family, marriage and interpersonal relations in the context of religion and modern society.” 

In August 2023, Mark Regnerus visited the Czech Republic again. He was a guest lecturer at Academic Weeks in the Orlické Mountains,an annual, week-long, Christian-oriented educational meeting. Regnerus spoke about the future of the institution of marriage. 

The Alliance has repeatedly shared his posts and opinions on, for example, the differences between men and women, on its social media channels. 

The University of Texas sociologist works closely with The Heritage Foundation, an American conservative organization. It is thanks to this organization that he was able to conduct research on the alleged harm caused to children raised by same-sex couples. Regnerus is a researcher on adolescent sexuality and religion, as well as a Roman Catholic and an opponent of same-sex unions. 

According to The New York Times, his study was the result of conservative efforts to sponsor research by ideologically sympathetic scholars that would come to the conclusion that children raised by same-sex couples do not fare as well as children raised by heterosexual spouses. 

Back in 2014, reporters from The New York Times published an article about how, in 2010, the Heritage Foundation gathered Catholic intellectuals, researchers, activists and funders for a meeting in Washington. They talked about the urgent need for a new study on family structures and child-rearing, one that would find that placing children in gay households harms them. 

One of the outcomes of the Washington meeting was $785,000 for research by Mark Regnerus, also a participant in that meeting. The funding came from The Witherspoon Institute, an American conservative think tank ($695,000), and the Bradley Foundation, a grantmaking organization that supports conservative causes ($90,000). 

Regnerus published his study in 2012. Its conclusions and methods were subsequently denounced by experts as misleading and irrelevant. Some conservatives, however, have nevertheless continued to cite it in speeches and lawsuits. 

Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that previous studies on gay parenting involved samples that were too small and random, and often involved higher-income parents. Regnerus surveyed about 3,000 teenagers. He found that those with at least one parent who had ever had a homosexual relationship fared worse on a number of behavioral and psychological indicators than those who grew up in traditional heterosexual families. Thus, Regnerus concluded, children are most likely to succeed if they grow up with a “married mother and father.“ 

Criticism and praise 

In 2013, the American Sociological Association, a major non-profit organization, published a lengthy report criticizing Regnerus’s work. The document noted that more than half of the subjects Regnerus identified as children of “lesbian mothers” and “homosexual fathers” were in fact children of failed heterosexual marriages in which one parent was later in a homosexual union, and that many others had never lived with homosexual parents. “If any conclusion can be drawn from the Regnerus study, it is that family stability predicts child well-being,” the association stressed. 

The results of the Texas sociologist’s research were then questioned in 2015 in the journal Social Science Research, which originally published his study. The authors of the critical paper, professors Simon Cheng and Brian Powell, pointed out that Regnerus misclassified a significant number of children in his study as being raised in same-sex households. After re-evaluating his data, Cheng and Powell concluded that there are minimal differences in the outcomes of children raised by same-sex and opposite-sex married parents. 

In addition, some of the responses in the Regnerus study were likely to have come from people who had joked about the research or spent a suspiciously short time completing the questionnaire. Also, “of the 236 respondents classified by Regnerus as living in a household with lesbian mothers or gay fathers, we identified only 51 who could be reliably coded as having been raised in a same-sex couple household for at least a year,” the two professors said in the conclusion of their critique. 

However, the Czech Alliance for the Family continues to use Regnerus’s research as an argument in its fight against enshrining same-sex couples’ rights in Czech legislation. “We also have research to support the fact that upbringing in homosexual couples actually affects children,” Jana Jochová told Radio Universum in an interview in 2019. “In America, there has been quantitative research on this, which was conducted on a large sample of the population, about three thousand people, by Professor Mark Regnerus.” Jochová eventually added that, by all accounts, children growing up with a mother and father do best. 

Regnerus was also quoted by Jakub Kříž, a lawyer who works very closely with the Alliance for the Family. “Mark Regnerus has worked with a sample of thousands of people and concluded that people raised in homosexual unions are significantly more likely to use drugs, be promiscuous, have venereal disease and be subject to sexual violence than those from full heterosexual families. The study was published by the respected scientific journal Social Science Research,” Kříž claimed in 2019, after speculation about the shortcomings of the Regnerus study was already public. 

“So far, the prevailing evidence is that there is not much difference between children raised by heterosexual and homosexual parents,” Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociologist who focuses on family issues at Johns Hopkins University, told The New York Times. According to The New York Times, experts agree that, given the same income and other factors related to household stability, children of same-sex couples fare just as well as children of heterosexual couples. 

“Regnerus’s study is therefore more of an example of engaged science, where a strongly Christian researcher did everything in the data to get his way,” Czech sociologist Daniel Prokop wrote in a 2019 article for SALON Práva. Mark Regnerus responded to criticism in the United States by admitting that his research was flawed. 

Conservative Foundations and Republicans 

As mentioned earlier, the idea for the Regnerus study came about during a meeting of conservatives initiated by the Heritage Foundation. Heritage is one of the largest conservative activist think tanks in the USA and invests hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lobbying. 

The organization is close to the Republican Party and its mission is “to promote public policy based on the principles of free enterprise, lean government, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense.” It is currently working on a $22 million operation called Project 2025, which is intended to prepare the groundwork and staffing for the next conservative American government. Former high-ranking Trump administration officials are active in Heritage’s ranks. 

The Heritage Foundation, among other things, denies the climate crisis, claiming that “the only consensus on the threat of climate change that seems to exist today is that there is no such consensus.” 

The organization is also part of the Promise to America’s Children coalition, which includes the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has worked with the Czech Alliance for the Family in the past. 

The Czech Alliance for the Family participated in a conference hosted by the organization in early March 2022. “In early March, an online conference was held by the American conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, this time focusing on how LGBTIQ+ and especially transgender ideology has taken over the American school curriculum. And how, with the help of flexible legislation, it even separates underage children from their parents. We also attended the conference,” Jana Jochová wrote.

The Alliance then invited Catherine Pakaluk, an academic who works directly for The Heritage Foundation, to the Czech Republic. Pakaluk gave a lecture entitled “Families with Children Save the State” at the CEVRO Institute on November 8, 2023. 

Independent Senator Jitka Chalánková, who is close to the Alliance for Families, also wrote about Pakaluk’s visit on her Facebook profile. 

Until recently, The Heritage Foundation ran a website through which one could find ideologically sympathetic experts and organizations. For example, Roman Joch, the husband of Jana Jochová, Josef Šíma (CEVRO Institute), Michal Semín (St. Joseph Institute) and Miroslav Ševčík (Liberal Institute) were listed for the Czech Republic. 

SPD MP Jan Sila, who was mentioned in the introduction of this piece,  did not respond to investigace.cz’s questions after this text was published in Czech on the investigace.cz website. But when the idea of marriage for all was debated anew in the Czech Chamber of Deputies at the end of February, he mentioned Mark Regnerus once again.

At the end of February, the Chamber of Deputies approved an amendment to the Civil Code that expands the rights of same-sex couples, but does not put them on the same level as heterosexual couples, particularly where adoption is concerned. The proposal will now be debated by the Senate. 

Cover illustration:  People holding huge rainbow flag ot the Prague Gay Pride  Czech Republic, August 11, 2018. Photo: lermont51 / Shutterstock

This article was originally published in Czech on investigace.cz

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Mahulena Kopecká

Mahulena Kopecká has worked for the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism since 2022. She writes articles on organized crime around the world and covers topics such as religious and ultraconservative movements. Previously, she wrote for a Czech website focused on foreign news Voxpot.cz and worked for the website of the the public radio broadcaster Czech Radio.