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Adoption Principles

Published in National Review

On both sides of the Atlantic, the argument is being made that the only way to find enough families for children in need of homes is to allow cohabiting persons who are unmarried — whether heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered — to adopt.

At first, the heightened attention by the media on gay and lesbian adoption was spurred in part by the involvement of Rosie O’Donnell in the high-profile Florida case which will be heard by the Eleventh Circuit. But now, the O’Donnell message has penetrated Number 10 Downing Street. Prime Minister Tony Blair has become a true believer.

Blair is listening to the claims of the social-work establishment in the U.K., led by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), that all cohabiting couples should be able to adopt. BAAF is the U.K. counterpart of the Child Welfare League of America, one of the groups that has joined in a friend-of-the-court brief supporting adoptions by gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons in the U.S.

Already, the U.K., like most states in the U.S., allow single persons to adopt, often without inquiring about whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. But in the U.K., as in the United States, it is clear that a campaign is being mounted to change adoption policy from one of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to “I’m Out and I’m Proud.”

Blair is meeting opposition from religious groups, a Christian “think tank” which has issued a number of papers arguing against adoption by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, and the Conservative party, a situation not all that different from the U.S., where those expressing concern about changing the rules about who can adopt also tend to be religious denominations, people with think tanks, or U.S. conservatives, such as President Bush.

In both the U.K. and the U.S., polls reflect the fact that the majority of the public oppose adoptions by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons. The difference is that the U.K. polls are less obviously biased in the way the question is asked.

This debate about who should be able to adopt has broader ramifications than at first seems obvious and impacts heterosexuals who cohabit, single, celibate heterosexuals, as well as those who are bisexual or transgendered. Discussions about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) adoption are raging not just in the U.S. and U.K., but worldwide. For that reason, perhaps the following draft list of principles, based on my 30 years’ experience in the field may be of help to the public and to policymakers.

GLBT activists and many others have tended to argue, based on faulty premises, that they should be able to adopt or serve as foster parents. But many of those who oppose fostering or adoption by GLBT persons have also tortured the data or used flawed reasoning, including the scare tactic that GLBT persons are likely to sexually exploit or abuse children they foster or adopt. I suggest a middle ground.

1. No couple or individual has a “right” to adopt, but the laws of most states are not clear on this point. The result is that “civil rights” approaches that are inappropriate have been applied and these legal arguments have significantly impacted placement practices. Not just GLBT persons but others are constantly challenging placement policies. The answer should be to change state laws to clarify that there is no consumerist “right to adopt” a child.

2. Although most children do well being raised by the couples who conceived them, some children must necessarily be removed from their families, usually because of neglect or abuse. Other children are voluntarily relinquished for a variety of reasons.

3. Children who have been removed or relinquished do have a “right” to the best possible parenting or parenting-substitute arrangement that society can provide them.

4. All children who come under the purview of government, including those in the public child-welfare system, deserve to be treated equally, regardless of their perceived “special needs.”

5. The best place for a child in need of placement, all things being equal, is a private family with parents whose health and lifestyles are such that they are likely to provide the child appropriate care and modeling at least until the child is 18.

6. The data suggest that a family headed by one male and one female who are married to each other have beneficial outcomes for children they adopt, taking into account proper screening, preparation, and support for the family.

7. Other family constellations, including unmarried, long-term cohabiting heterosexuals, or single-parent heterosexual households, are less optimal for children. The data, so far as I know it and am familiar with it, do not tell us anything about same-sex parenting. There is a basic rule of prudence that should apply as a result: When in doubt, don’t.

8. There should be no placement of children, whether for foster care or adoption, with same-sex couples or with individuals who may in the future team up with a partner of the same sex. If such placements happen, care should be taken to ensure that, at least for voluntary relinquishments, the biological parents — whose consent is required anyway — agree to placement and likely eventual adoption of their child by a GLBT person. It is also important to ensure that financial or other inducements have not been offered which would taint or otherwise render the consents invalid. Not so long ago, a gay couple from the U.K. spent over $100,000 to adopt twins through a “surrogacy arrangement.” When sums of that sort are involved, not-so-subtle coercion may be present.

9. If, as I believe, there is a shortage of appropriate families to foster or adopt children the proper response is to change the incentives and supports to eliminate the shortage of appropriate families.

10. Some children present such challenges that they can not and should not be placed in any family. They require other sorts of appropriate care.

10. Children already placed with single individuals or couples who are GLBT, sometimes as a result of flawed state laws and threats of law suits, present a dilemma. Removing a child who has attached or bonded may not be in the best interest of the child. But allowing a child to remain with that individual or couple will encourage still more improper placements. On an individualized case basis, with the understanding that no more such placements are to take place under the laws of that state, the possibility of legally recognizing an existing, beneficial psychological parent-child relationship could be considered.

11. The movement to allow a “second-parent” adoption by an individual who is not married to the “first-parent” is a transparent strategy to set the stage for additional changes in adoption law.

12. Because the use of sperm to become pregnant is such a low-technology matter and something that is beyond the practical reach and scope of laws to prevent, there will continue to be many GLBT couples who privately conceive babies. Assisted Reproductive Technologies which use sophisticated medical approaches also need to be dealt with in due course. Meanwhile, the issue of do-it-yourself insemination will not go away because there is no way our society and its laws will countenance the removal of a child born to a woman, unless she is otherwise declared unfit because of child abuse or neglect, must be incarcerated, etc. Society is in a bind, often not of its own making, in respect to many of the “second-party” parenting arrangements that result from privately-arranged, informal inseminations.

13. An entirely different set of considerations, some of which are similar to those cited above, necessarily applies in intercountry adoptions.

If principles such as those above are combined with the application of common sense, the current controversy over adoptions by GLBT persons can be dealt with fairly and in a fashion consistent with the need to structure public policies so that the best interest of the child is our highest priority.

William L. Pierce was the founding president of the National Council For Adoption, where he served for 20 years. He currently a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, publisher of Adoption/Medical News, and executive director of the USA Committee for the International Association of Voluntary Adoption Agencies and NGOs.