Should gays adopt kids?

How you look at things.
Feb. 7 2002 4:34 PM

Adopting Premises

The sneaky debate over legalizing adoptions by gay couples.

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The AAP plays a similar trick in reverse. "Because most children whose parents are gay or lesbian have experienced the divorce of their biologic parents, their subsequent psychologic development has to be understood in that context," says the AAP. "Children of divorced lesbian mothers grow up in ways that are very similar to children of divorced heterosexual mothers." By comparing lesbians to divorced straight women rather than to married straight women, the AAP eliminates fatherhood as an explanatory variable. In fact, by leaving fathers out of the equation, the AAP gets to portray male role models as an advantage of lesbian parenthood: "Lesbian mothers … have been shown to be more concerned with providing male role models for their children than are divorced heterosexual mothers."

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5. Define the alternative. Connor says legalizing gay adoptions would "deprive" children of having a loving mom and dad. To dodge that dilemma, the media and gay adoption advocates focus on the millions of kids whose alternative to being adopted by a well-off gay couple is far worse than being adopted by a well-off straight couple. They profile gay couples who have taken in orphans, sick or abused children, and Asian kids for whom adoptive parents are hard to find. Connor says it would be better to get straight couples to adopt these kids. But until he recruits enough volunteers, he'll have to explain why living in an orphanage or with a drug-addicted mom is better than having two dads.

6. Define the conditions. Conservatives argue that being adopted by a gay couple puts a kid in an awkward situation. The AAP bypasses this objection by limiting the debate to kids who are already in that situation. The AAP doesn't explicitly endorse a gay couple adopting a child from outside their home. Instead, it says, "Children who are born to or adopted by 1 member of a same-sex couple deserve the security of 2 legally recognized parents." On this basis, the AAP says the other member of the couple should be allowed to adopt the child as well, thereby guaranteeing the child not only a feeling of security but financial benefits such as dependent health insurance.

Should the child be in the custody of a gay person in the first place? The authors of the AAP policy assume that question away. They describe the kids at stake as those who "happen to have a homosexual parent," ignoring the question of how that happened. Like abortion-rights advocates, they stipulate that the disputed conduct will take place anyway and that therefore the best policy is to make it safe and legal. "People are already doing this, de facto," says one sociologist. "The question is are you going to give parents the same rights, and therefore the kids the same rights, and the same stability in their connection to their parents that other kids have?"

7. Define the causality. Connor says society prohibits gay marriage and gay adoption because gays are more prone to promiscuity, depression, drug abuse, and suicide, and less likely to sustain stable relationships than straights are. But what if it's the other way around? What if society's verdict that you're unfit to marry or raise kids makes you more prone  to promiscuity, depression, drug abuse, and suicide, and less likely to sustain stable relationships? And what if the emotional problems that afflict kids with gay parents are caused not by having gay parents, but by society's taboo against gay parenthood?

That's essentially what the AAP argues. "Prevalent heterosexism and stigmatization might lead to teasing and embarrassment for children about their parent's sexual orientation or their family constellation and restrict their ability to form and maintain friendships," says the AAP. "Children living with divorced lesbian mothers have better outcomes … when their fathers and other important adults accept their mother's lesbian identity." Above all, says the AAP, "[d]enying legal parent status through adoption to coparents or second parents prevents these children from enjoying the psychologic and legal security that comes from having 2 willing, capable, and loving parents." In other words, those who oppose legalization of gay marriage and adoption thereby perpetuate the instability they cite as grounds for denying gays the right to marry and adopt.

Each of these debates within the debate can modify the outcome. If having gay parents is better than being in an orphanage but not as good as having straight parents, maybe gays should be allowed to adopt only kids who are wards of the state, as is done in New Jersey.  If having a mom and dad is better than having two moms only when all other considerations are equal, maybe sexual orientation should be a factor, though not a conclusive one, in the adoption screening process. If gay adoptions should be banned because kids of gays have the same problems as kids of divorced people, maybe a divorcee's new husband shouldn't have any more parental rights over her child than a new lesbian partner would.

Alternatively, if the emotional and financial health of a household renders its configuration irrelevant to its parental suitability, maybe threesomes (a surrogate/donor mom and two gay men) or foursomes (biological mom, biological dad, and each parent's gay partner) should be allowed to adopt kids. The AAP virtually suggests as much. Or maybe, if Connor is right that New Jersey's first gay adoption was wrong because "both adoptive parents died from AIDS," we should play it safe and give lesbians priority over straight couples in the adoption process. Be careful what standard you argue for. You just might get it.