The Big, Glaring Issue With New Study that Says Gays Make Bad Parents

Hint: It has to do with apples and oranges.

In retrospect, I’m not all that concerned that Gov. Tom Corbett decided on Friday to compare gay marriage to incest. Corbett has made a career of statements he thinks tells hard truths but are obviously dumb. Watch the video again: Corbett simply doesn’t sound like a serious man. And true to form, nobody’s really taking him seriously.

We’ve entered a new—perhaps final—phase of the gay marriage debate. Anybody who insists on portraying gays as perverts and their relationships as perversions isn’t going to get very far in the national conversation; Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum’s 2012 presidential candidacy may be the last real show of strength from that group. Too many of us know and love gay people for that storyline to carry any weight anymore.

Still, there’s a group of gay marriage opponents out there that has one last argument up its sleeve. These folks know better than to make the “ick” arguments against gays and lesbians; instead, they offer an argument—buttressed, they say, by science and common sense—designed to give even gay marriage proponents pause:

Gay people, they say, are bad parents.

The argument popped up again over the weekend in posts at the conservative Power Line and National Review blogs. Both pointed to a new Canadian study that purports to show, well, let’s let it speak for itself:

Children living with gay and lesbian families in 2006 were about 65 % as likely to graduate compared to children living in opposite sex marriage families. Daughters of same-sex parents do considerably worse than sons.

This caused Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff to sneer at the very idea of gay marriage: “The pragmatist in me would be tempted to exclude gender pairings that are not only incapable, by definition, of producing children, but also don’t raise them very successfully.”

Which is unfair, if not mean-spirited. Why? Because despite its boasts, the Canadian study is still comparing apples to oranges. The apples? Straight parents who are mostly raising their own biological children. The oranges? Gay parents, raising mostly adoptive children.

Among social workers, it’s accepted as a truism that gay couples are far more likely to adopt the children that other people don’t want—instead of the proverbial “healthy white babies,” gays are far more likely to adopt children who are older, minorities, who have birth defects and behavioral problems that are native to them, or simply the problems that come from long-term foster care. To borrow a phrase from another debate: Gays are doing the jobs that most other Americans simply won’t do. Which makes it easier for commenters like Mirengoff to castigate them.

Here’s what we know:

• Gay parents are more likely to be adoptive parents. In 2009, 19 percent of gay couples had an adopted child in the house, up from 8 percent in 2000.

Adopted children tend to lag behind children who are raised in intact biological families in academic achievement, and in a host of other measures.

• For kids who are never adopted, but stay in foster care, the high school graduation rate is as low as 50 percent.

The proper thing to do, of course, isn’t to compare parents of intact biological families with adoptive gay parents. The better (and meaningful) comparison outcomes between the children of straight and gay adoptive parents.

Not a lot of research has been done on that front, but the limited results are telling: “A 2012 study by UCLA researchers involving 82 families (60 heterosexual, 15 gay, and 7 lesbian) who adopted high-risk children from foster care found that on average, children in both same-sex and different-sex households ‘showed significant gains of approximately 10 IQ points in their cognitive development and maintained stable levels of behavior problems that were not clinically significant.’”

In other words: It’s tough to be an adopted kid. It’s tough to be an adoptive parent. But having a family tends to be beneficial to such lost children—even if that new family doesn’t conform to the old rules.

It is proveably true that gay parents aren’t “successful” only if you ignore the parenting challenges they’re more likely to face, as adoptive parents. The case against gay marriage these days is the case against gay parenting—and the case against gay parenting, it seems, is a case for forcing otherwise-adopted children to forego loving families and stay in group homes and foster care. It sounds … kind of perverse.