Sociologist's View: Same-Sex Marriage

Mar 13, 2013

The Illinois House may vote on a measure to make same-sex marriage legal in the state.  The state's consideration comes amid a national conversation about gay marriage.  The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two key cases regarding same-sex marriage on March 26 and 27. At both government levels, the debate involves the effect of same-sex marriage on families, and how they are viewed in society.

Sociologist Robert Hironimus-Wendt
Credit WIU

WNIJ invited Western Illinois University sociology professor Robert Hironimus-Wendt to discuss the sociological implications of same-sex marriage.

Hironimus-Wendt draws on the amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by the American Sociological Association in late February. He is a member of that organization.

He tells WNIJ's Jenna Dooley that research indicates children of same-sex parents fare just as well as counterparts with heterosexual parents. 

The study concludes:

"The claim that same-sex parents produce less positive child outcomes than opposite-sex parents — either because such families lack both a male and female parent or because both parents are not the biological parents of their children — contradicts abundant social science research."
                 — Amicus brief from the American Sociological Association, Feb. 28, 2013


Hironimus-Wendt argues the legalization of same-sex marriage could increase the stability of same-sex families because it allows them to function in society as equals within their community.  Regarding the long-held moral argument that allowing same-sex couples to marry contributes to a denigration of society,  Hironimous-Wendt says there is no evidence to support that belief. He adds that, in any case, it  should not legitimize an opportunity to place any person in a second class of society without full legal benefits.

The brief does refer to a study which shows negative effects of children raised by same-sex parents.  The study, conducted by Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, has drawn criticism for its methodology. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests the study came under scrutiny because it is not considered "politically correct."

"Although the findings reported herein may be explicable in part by a variety of forces uniquely problematic for child development in lesbian and gay families — including a lack of social support for parents, stress exposure resulting from persistent stigma, and modest or absent legal security for their parental and romantic relationship statuses — the empirical claim that no notable differences exist must go. While it is certainly accurate to affirm that sexual orientation or parental sexual behavior need have nothing to do with the ability to be a good, effective parent, the data evaluated herein using population-based estimates drawn from a large, nationally-representative sample of young Americans suggest that it may affect the reality of family experiences among a significant number."
                                                                                    —Regnerus study, July 2012


Hironimus-Wendt says, as an academic, he questions the methodology of the study:

"The Regnerus study is framed with the assumption that same-sex families are dysfunctional for children, based on studies conducted a few decades ago when homosexuality was deemed a mental health issue, and same sex relations were universally denounced. He says the authors then create a sub-sample of people raised in broken families and concludes the (assumed) sexual orientation of their parents caused problems for these adult respondents (without demonstrating any reason to conclude such)."
                                                                              —Robert Hironimus Wendt

In August, the University of Texas at Austin determined no formal investigation was warranted into the allegations of scientific misconduct lodged against associate professor Mark Regnerus.