Bigotry of Olympic proportion

When the anti-gay religious industry in America helps create an environment in which our citizens abroad are exposed to a real threat of violence and persecution, a red line surely has been crossed. Evidence shows that religion-based bigotry is being used to promote stigma and hostility toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in Russia, where the winter Olympics are to be held in Sochi in February 2014.

Calls for protest have been made because the Olympics are being held in a country where legislation banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors" was overwhelmingly supported by Russian lawmakers. Implemented in June, after President Vladimir Putin signed it into law, it bars the public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere children might hear it – and has been condemned by Russian and international rights groups as highly discriminatory.

The premise behind such legislation is clear – homosexuality is a threat to children. Such a premise should ring very familiar with anyone who has been engaged in America's civil rights movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens.

A recent development in the anti-gay religious industry's derogation of LGBT individuals is the so-called research of Mark Regnerus, a Christian sociologist at the University of Texas. In a controversial study published in June 2012, Regnerus set out to discover how children of gay couples fared compared to children in other family settings. The researcher made sweeping conclusions claiming that having gay parents harms kids.

That's hardly a surprise considering it comes from a researcher who has said his religious beliefs should inform his academic work. Groups like the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and other organizations that operate within the realm of the Religious Right for years have been saying gay marriage is harmful to society – children in particular.

Regnerus as recent as June of this year posted an article on the Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse web site that concluded gay marriage's signature mark on marriage would be making marital cheating an acceptable trait. It is pretty clear that Regnerus considers same-sex marriage quite foreboding to the institution of marriage, the family and children.

The Witherspoon Institute, which helped fund the Regnerus study, is well-known for its admonishments against same-sex marriage. In a book the Witherspoon Institute published and promotes on its web site entitled "Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles", the author concludes the institution of marriage is in trouble and same-sex marriage is one reason why.

The Austin Chronicle has reported on collaboration between Witherspoon and Regnerus. In a March 2013 article, the Chronicle cited a 2010 email exchange between Regnerus and Witherspoon President Luis Tellez in which Tellez wrote "Naturally we would like to move along as expeditiously as possible but experience suggests we ought not to get hung up with deadlines, do what is right and best, move on it, don't dilly dolly [sic], etc. It would be great to have this before major decisions of the Supreme Court but that is secondary to the need to do this and do it well."

Regnerus since the publication of the study has been a featured speaker at a number of venues sponsored by organizations which promote heterosexual marriage as the moral lynchpin of society and which cast same-sex marriage as exactly the opposite. In May, Regnerus was listed as a presenter at the 2013 Ruth Institute's 2013 It Takes A Family To Raise A Village (ITAF) conference in San Diego, Calif. The Ruth Institute is a project of the National Organization For Marriage, which exists today as a leading member of anti-gay religious industry. On the Ruth Institute web site, one of its projects is listed as "Research and Research Dissemination Program."

Carlos Maza, a 25-year-old gay blogger who attended the ITAF 2012 conference concluded a lengthy post on Aug. 28 of that year at the Equality Matters web site in which he detailed his four-day attendance with this:

"ITAF showcased the kind of anti-gay animus that activists have for years accused NOM of harboring behind closed doors. In the public eye, NOM depicts itself as fair-minded and moderate pro-marriage group. In reality, it's the kind of organization that seeks to train college students to justify anti-gay bigotry by relying on stereotypes, pseudoscience, and a sizable dose of right-wing religious extremism."

In addition, Regnerus is listed as a director of the newly formed Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture in Austin, Texas. Its web site advertised a Sept. 5 presentation by Robert George entitled "Five Pillars of a Decent and Dynamic Society." George, a professor at Princeton University, is well-known for his views opposing gay marriage and is a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.

The John Paul II Australian Leaders Forum in Sydney, Australia, in August 2012 posted an article by George entitled "Five Pillars of a Decent and Dynamic Society." In it, George states: "As has become clear in the past decade and a half, there is a profound threat to the family here, one against which we must fight with all our energy and will. It is difficult to think of any item on the domestic agenda that is more critical today than the defense of marriage as the union of husband and wife and the effort to renew and rebuild the marriage culture."

Here is a recent comment from a Financial Times article published Sept. 28 from Russian President Vladimir Putin: “A policy is being conducted of putting on the same level multi-child families and single-sex partnerships, belief in God and belief in Satan. The excesses of political correctness are leading to the point where people are talking seriously about registering parties whose goal is legalising the propaganda of paedophilia.”

It's evident that Regnerus is well-connected to the anti-gay religious industry and it really should come as no surprise that his research would be touted as breakthrough for society and family – at least for religious conservatives who views homosexuality or same-sex marriage as a threat to one or the other and both.

It also shouldn't surprise us that the religious anti-gay bias surrounding the funding of the study, those promoting it and perhaps the researcher himself produced a seriously flawed piece of research.

The Regnerus study came under immediate criticism and prompted a backlash against Social Science Research, which received a letter signed by the president of the American Sociological Association demanding the Regnerus paper be retracted.

In addition, the Regnerus study was roundly criticized as flawed in Supreme Court amicus briefs filed in this year's Prop8 and DOMA cases by the American Sociological Association, 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.

In its amicus brief, the American Sociological Association stated: "First, the Regnerus study does not specifically examine children born or adopted into same-sex parent families, but instead examines children who, from the time they were born until they were 18 or moved out, had a parent who at any time had “a same-sex romantic relationship.” As Regnerus noted, the majority of the individuals characterized by him as children of “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” were the offspring of failed opposite-sex unions whose parent subsequently had a same-sex relationship. In other words, Regnerus did not study or analyze the children of two same-sex parents."

I'm not sure if the absurdity could be more clear – a study on same-sex parenting that doesn't analyze the children of two same-sex parents.

Despite such harsh rebuke by the scientific community, those within the anti-gay religious industry have alluded to the Regnerus study as rock-solid science – so solid that it even proves their biblical admonitions against homosexuality are indeed empirical truth.

Peter Sprigg, with the infamously anti-gay Family Research Council, describes Regnerus's research with a title that reads "New Study On Homosexual Parents Tops All Previous Research." Rev. Jim Garlow, a San Diego pastor active in the Prop8 fight and a leader in the anti-gay religious industry, posted an interview three months ago on Vimeo between Regnerus and himself. In the video, Garlow asserts that Regnerus's research proves the Bible's admonition against homosexuality is true and thanks Regnerus for being a courageous sociologist.

But there can be no doubt that the premise behind Regnerus's research, that homosexuality is a threat to children, is being used as a propaganda piece from the anti-gay religious industry in America and abroad.

The form of bigotry being promoted by the anti-gay religious industry against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals is unique in that it justifies and promotes hostility with misguided religious teaching. The anti-gay religious industry can now point to the Regnerus study and proclaim that such stigma and hostility not only has a stamp of religious validity but also has a scientific stamp of validity.

The Regnerus study is being used in U.S. courts and public venues abroad to promote that stamp of rejection and condemnation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. It has helped create an environment in which American athletes and other American citizens, gay or straight, in Russia could be the target of hostility from anti-gay forces there.

It should be alarming to think social science research can allowed to be manipulated by animus toward a minority within society. If such flawed research goes unchallenged here or abroad, religion-based bigotry's harm to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, especially youth and families, indeed may reach Olympic proportion.

Brent Childers once aligned himself with the anti-gay religious industry and now serves as executive Faith in America, a nonprofit organization which works to educate the public about the immense harm caused to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people when certain church teaching is used to promote and justify stigma and hostility.