Break down barriers to homosexual adoption

March 20, 2002|By Adam Pertman

NEWTON, Mass. -- The common thread among all the states that prohibit or impede adoption by gays and lesbians is their stated desire to provide the best possible homes for children.

It is not homophobia, they assert, to enact laws and policies that acknowledge the benefits of parenting by a married heterosexual couple. They invariably add, during legislative or courtroom debates if not in statutory language, that preventing homosexuals from adopting protects children from being negatively influenced or even physically harmed by the adults who are supposed to protect them.

All of those arguments are ill-informed and disingenuous nonsense.

If politicians and judges in these states believed their own words, they would be acting today to remove millions of supposedly at-risk children from existing families in which one or both parents are homosexual. More urgently, they would be obstructing single motherhood -- which deprives more kids of married, cohabitating parents than any phenomenon in history.

A serious effort to achieve either of those goals won't be mounted anywhere, of course, for two principal reasons:

Whatever their personal or political views, policymakers understand there's little they can do to alter the reality that diverse families of all sorts are becoming commonplace.

More pointedly, there is no credible evidence that children raised in nontraditional families suffer from a lack of love, stability or safety. In fact, the majority of child abuse occurs in homes headed by married heterosexuals.

Both points were underscored in a big way by the American Academy of Pediatrics' recent support for gays and lesbians in "second-parent adoptions," the mechanism by which one partner becomes a second legal parent to the other's biological or adopted children.

The academy's action is important, not only because it put the imprimatur of a highly regarded, mainstream organization on a controversial practice. It's also important because the announcement came after an academy committee reviewed 20 years of research and concluded that children raised by homosexuals are just as well-adjusted as their counterparts reared by heterosexuals.

This is obviously good news for gay rights proponents and for advocates of all sorts of nontraditional families because it's likely to accelerate their flow into the American mainstream. It would be a huge mistake, however, for policymakers to interpret the academy's findings too narrowly; that is, the understanding that homosexuals can make fine parents should drive far more than just movements to expand second-parent adoptions.

The children who could gain the most from a bigger pool of prospective parents are the tens of thousands in foster care. There isn't a state in the union that has enough applicants to give these kids homes, yet too many still prevent gays and lesbians from adopting.

At least some of the people who shaped these rules presumably thought they were genuinely serving children's needs, though it's tough to figure how anyone can conclude that a child is better off in a fifth foster home than being with a loving, albeit imperfect, family. Now, in light of the pediatricians' findings, it's hard to view such policies as anything other than homophobic.

The situation in Florida, the only state to ban all gay and lesbian adoptions outright, shows how silly and counterproductive the debate has been. In affirming a state law forbidding such adoptions last year, a federal court in Florida effectively decided three HIV-infected children being raised by a gay man (who had received an Outstanding Foster Parenting award) would be better off in a home with two married, heterosexual parents.

Never mind that children like these, with serious special needs, are languishing in every state without parents of any type. And never mind the convoluted logic that leads Florida to allow gays and lesbians to serve as foster parents but not to adopt the children they are raising.

I hope policy-makers keep this in mind as they consider the implications of the pediatricians' action:

Under revised federal laws, Americans can adopt anywhere, not just from the jurisdiction in which they live. So any state that tries to prevent a gay or lesbian from becoming a parent cannot achieve its aim; it can only keep children in that state's custody from getting permanent families.

Adam Pertman, a journalist and lecturer on family issues, is the author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming America (Basic Books, 2000).

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