Banning gay adoptions is a slippery slope
By Ellen Goodman
In my business, it's only fair to acknowledge a bias. My bias is named Ruthie.
Ruthie is the youngest cousin in a bumper crop of babies that has extended our family over the past few years. When she was adopted, we didn't pass out cigars, we passed out Baby Ruth candy bars. So maybe it's our fault that she's now entered the sugar-rush stage of toddlerhood, leaving her parents joyously breathless and regularly transforming her grandmother's house into Early Childproof Decor.
Did I mention that Ruthie has two daddies, something her toddler cousins take for granted? Did I mention that Ruthie's birth mother chose this couple to raise her, picking these two men from all the dossiers at the adoption agency?
Ruthie is why I take it personally when the Vatican calls gay adoptions "gravely immoral" or says that such adoptions "mean doing violence to these children." Ruthie is why I grimace when Russell Johnson, the chair of the Ohio Restoration Project, says, "Experimenting on children through gay adoption is a problem." Ruthie and her parents are not an experiment. They are a family. Part of my family.
Once again, we are back to the subject of gay adoption. This month, Catholic Charities in Boston was called on the Vatican carpet. For years the agency had operated a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Over the course of two decades, Catholic social workers had placed 13 children with gay parents, saving most from the revolving door of foster care.
But Roman Catholic law forbids gay adoption, and Massachusetts state law forbids discrimination. Faced with a conflict, the bishops overrode the board of Catholic Charities and ended its long and cherished role in adoption.
Now this issue is rolling out across the country, all the way to San Francisco. There, the new archbishop appears to be on a similar collision course with Catholic Charities and secular laws.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Mitt Romney, nodding madly to conservatives in his bid for a presidential run, has filed a bill to grant a religious exemption to discrimination laws. But if you give one church permission to discriminate against gays, what's next? Permission to discriminate against blacks or Jews who want to adopt? Isn't that where we came from?
It seems that many see gay adoption as another issue to rally the right in the culture wars. There are now efforts under way in 16 states for laws to ban gay adoptions. These would add to a crazy quilt of state laws ranging from Florida, which bans gay adoptions but allows gay foster parents, to Mississippi, which bans adoption by gay couples but not gay singles, to Utah, which prohibits all unmarried couples from adoption.
But let's put my Ruthie bias aside for the moment. Let's even put aside the studies that support my bias: A comprehensive review of them coming out next week from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute shows again that children of gay parents do fine.
If some still insist that it is "gravely immoral" to raise children in gay households, what exactly do those wedge-drivers propose to do? If they believe that gay adoption is doing "violence," where does that lead?
We have always had gay parents. Most had children the old-fashioned way, hiding their sexuality as long as they could. Now they can also do it the new-fashioned way with every reproductive aid from sperm bank to surrogate.
A researcher analyzing the 2000 Census estimated that there are 250,000 kids being raised by same-sex couples. If gay parenting is harmful, do we take children away from their biological gay parents? Do we make it unlawful for gays to use fertility technologies? How? If there are states that allow gay adoption, would we ban interstate travel for that? And what do we say to a birth mother who picks a gay couple? No?
Today, 60 percent of agencies accept applications and 40 percent knowingly place children with gay parents. Social workers, whether at religious, state or private agencies, want only one thing: to find safe, good homes in a country with 500,000 children adrift.
"The effect of all this opposition is not to prevent gay people from becoming parents," says Adam Pertman of the Donaldson Adoption Institute. "All it can do is diminish the pool of mothers and fathers for children who need homes."
We all talk about "the best interest of the child." What makes up that interest? On my list are attention, love, security, humor and a besotted family racing to keep one step ahead of a toddler. Of course, a little bias on that child's behalf never hurts.