Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Same Sex Adoption

For some time the headlines have screamed of discrimination against same sex couples adopting. Catholic agencies have closed their doors rather than go against their beliefs and allow gay couples to adopt children.  Gays are up in arms and many claim that such policies only hurt the children who could benefit from loving homes regardless of the sexual orientation of those who care for them.

When I went to press with THE STORK MARKET in 2007, the topic was just becoming an issue and my thoughts were not yet fully formed.  I am an extremely liberal progressive and fully and totally support marriage equality.  But adoption as a gay rights issue was another question altogether that required more time to formulate my conflicted feelings and form an opinion. I thus, then - and since - have avoided the subject not wanting to become embroiled in adding to the furor of adoption becoming another platform for gay rights for two reasons:

1. Adoption is not a "right"
2. Adoption should always put the needs of children above those of any of the adults

No one has a "right" to adopt. Furthermore, although they get lumped together in the media and the minds of the public, all adoptions are not equal. State adoptions of children in foster care are mandated by state law while private adoptions - domestic and international - are held to very different standards and looser regulations, based primarily on who can afford to pay the tens of thousands of dollars they cost.  Religious institutions and private adoption facilitators are not bound by the same anti-discrimination laws that state agencies are.

As far as discrimination, we need to step back and recognize that the entire concept of adoption is based on subjective prejudices that age, marital status and finances determine who is more "fit" to parent. We live in a society that makes these judgments all the time. We judge some people as too young or too old to be good parents before they ever even try. This has always been the case.

Private and religious adoption agencies always made their own selection criteria. In the 1940's - 1970's, for instance, prospective adopters had to be a married man and woman of the a particular religion and had to prove infertility - as if that made one a better parent!  Jewish agencies looked for Jewish parents for children and Catholic agencies selected catholic families. Why is that wrong if it is the wishes of the mother? They also tried to match prospective parents eye and hair color to the child so they could more easily pass the child off as their own. Age was always a factor for adopters as were requirements such as having sufficient room in the home for each child. Today the weight of those applying to adopt has become, at times, an issue as obesity is a health issue.

Today mothers considering adoption are more involved and make their own selections from a pool. Surely they are allowed the right to their own person preference, even if that includes ruling out single applicants or same sex couples if it is not what they want for their child.  Bottom line is that there is no right to adopt. Adoption is a privilege, not a right and selections are made, some based on wisdom and some simply on personal preference. And, it is always based on the MYTH that adoption provides a "better" life when in fact it only guarantees a different life. It's all a crap shoot! Background checks are sorely lacking any teeth and in private independent adoptions the adopters pay for their own home studies which are drive-by rubber stamps.

While governmental agencies are bound by anti-discrimination laws, we should be screaming far louder for the rights of children to be protected than worrying about some people being excluded by SOME agencies!  Adoption needs to be a last resort after all efforts at Family Preservation have been tried and failed. It then needs to be child-centered and decisions need to be made as to what is best for each child, not those desiring to obtain a child.

In most cases -- most especially with children coming out of state care -- permanent legal guardianship with visitation is what is best and the parents who are able to accept that are the ones best suited. Many children placed from foster care have developed relationships - good or bad - with their parents, siblings or other kin that needs to be respected and continued.   Criteria should thus put a high value on applicants who fully understand and accept that they will be caring for a child who comes with a pre-existing family and history and are ready to honor, protect and maintain that.  They also need to be people who understand that adopted children - of any age - come with emotional baggage including feelings of loss, grief, rejection and abandonment. They need to be prepared to meet these needs realistically, be able to deal with acting-out and learning difficulties, and not be seeking a child to love them.

These are the criteria all adoption agencies should be screening for, not external factors.


LilySea said...

I don't disagree with what you say about adoption not being a right and about the whole system of adoption being about discrimination against certain kinds of people as parents. I don't disagree that reform needs to be focused on family preservation and on children's rights before all else.

But I see no reason why overturning bans against same-sex adoption is at odds with these goals. While adoption may not be a right every child does have a right to a family and as you point out, expectant mothers with an interest in placing their children for adoption should certainly have every right to choose what they do and don't want.

As far as I know, unless a mother has waived her rights to an agency or other adoption professional, she is able to say no to a prospective adoptive parent or parents. But in cases where gay adoption is banned, she may not choose a same-sex couple or gay individual if she wants to. And I have heard many stories of first mothers who specifically wanted a gay or lesbian couple to raise their children. In fact, being a lesbian couple was a (positive) factor in one of my daughters' mother's choice of us as her adoptive parents. So it really flies in the face of giving prospective birth mothers choice and control to allow states to continue to deny adoption privileges to gay people.

It's also the case that more gay adoptive parents go the foster route than straight adoptive parents and all the gay or lesbian foster-adopt families I know have respectful, extended-family relationships with the first families--even in extremely difficult circumstances like incarceration or on-going addiction problems.

There is no need to pit discrimination against one group against discrimination against another. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, after all.

Mirah Riben said...

Your comments exemplify what I said about the public confusing the different types of adoption.

"But in cases where gay adoption is banned, she may not choose a same-sex couple or gay individual if she wants to."

If a mother who is trying to arrange an adoption PREFERS a same sex couple, then she would obviously deal with an agency or intermediaries that allow her that choice and she would exclude religious agencies that do not allow it.

It is no diff than a mother who wants a Catholic family for her child choosing not to use a Jewish or Mormon adoption agency and vice versa.

The issue is state agencies involving adoptions from foster care where parental rights have already been terminated. Parents whose rights are involuntarily terminated have no right to input as to who might adopt their children and states cannot discriminate.

So those who note that same-sex couples who have historically adopted many children from foster care, including children with HIV...have nothing to worry about.

The issue is that same-sex couples do not want to be limited to children labeled "hard to place". They want to compete in the open market in international and infant adoptions. That is a demand-driven market and money goes a long way, but domestically, it is also a place where original parents have more voice and maintain their right to choose new parents for their children, until such time as they sign a voluntary relinquishment of those rights which is not until after the birth and usually AFTER prospective parents have been selected.

An expectant mother can make any ridiculous stipulation she chooses. She may decide who only wants parents who share her taste in music or books, or she may choose to eliminate red-haired parents. Some will only consider couples who have other children as they don't want their child raised as an only, and that is their prerogative.

States have their own criteria which include age and can include health risks.

Mirah Riben said...

PS Some have suggested, for instance, that smokers should be rejected as prospective adopters.

Angelle said...

“The issue is that same-sex couples do not want to be limited to children labeled "hard to place". They want to compete in the open market in international and infant adoptions.”

This past weekend I attended a memorial service for a wonderful woman. She was 97 when she passed and had a large family and life. Her grandson was there with his partner of 15 years – they are a very savvy and well off couple living in Brooklyn - and with them was their 5 year old platinum blond haired blue eyed daughter.

I watched their interaction. It was loving, but all the while I had nagging thoughts - where is her mother, are they in contact with her mother, how is it to be a young girl child raised by two men. This was not an adoption based on the needs of the child but rather on the desire of these two men.

As a first mother I deal with my 40 year old son coming to grips with his adoption and I see a myriad of issues created here.

Anonymous said...

I agree that smokers should not be allowed to adopt. Smoking in the presence of children is child abuse.

As for Angelle's concerns, clearly the birthmother didn't share them. She would have received a large number of profiles from hetro-sexual couples (young white girls are in extremely high demand among adopters). Perhaps the mother had gay friends (many women do). Whatever her reasons, the child appears to be well cared for.

Anonymous said...

This is not politically correct but I think just being adopted is enough for a child without having to also be part of an "alternative" lifestyle that in many cases is still not totally accepted. There is nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian but the adults got to choose their lifestyle and the child doesn't have any say.

It often seems like adopted children are used as guinea pigs. First they have to be raised in a non-biologically related family. Now these are the children who have two mommies or two daddies or maybe only one of each. There are more issues at stake here for the child than just "it's love that makes a family".

I agree with what Angelle said and think that many of these adoptions sound like they are more to meet the desires of the adoptive parents than the needs of the child.

Mirah Riben said...

To be fair, truth is no one gets to choose their parents and I know personally of at least one person who was born to a heterosexual couple and one of his parents declared homosexuality subsequently. I also happen to know of two cases of people who were married and had children one of whom started toward gender reassignment and stopped and the other is post surgery. We do not get to choose our parents or what they become.

Having said that, the laws regarding adoption are such that in private, domestic adoption parents who birth the children get to decide and hopefully all candidates are honest.

In International adoption children go to whomever can afford to pay the piper.

And children in foster care who can be adopted are subject to state laws which involve non-discrimination and that is not likely to change. The gay community is rich and powerful, unlike adoption reformers. Gays are also less afraid than adoptees to openly march in huge numbers to get what they want, and so they do. Adoptees - by and large, as a whole - are far more afraid of appearing ungrateful.

One of the saddest facts about adoption is that far from putting the needs of children in need first and foremost and finding the best family for each child instead of filling a demand...the opposite is true. often the hardest to place children, those with the most difficulties to overcome, often go to the least capable parents simply because too few want them.

Anonymous said...

It is true that children living in their bio-families may have a parent who later admits to being gay or undergoes sex reassignment surgery. However, I still don't think the two scenarios are analogous since an adoptee is PLACED into such a situation and may also have so many adoptee issues to deal with on top of that.

Mirah Riben said...

I don't disagree. I think all family loss and separation should always be a last resort and when it is necessary to provide alternative care, a child's extended family should be sought first and whether family or stranger it should be a form of permanent legal guardianship, not adoption as we know it which erases people's histories, but rather respects then families from which they originated.

As far as same sex couples adopting, do you suggest state agencies discriminate and not allow it? based on what grounds? There are no good studies to indicate that same sex couples are less fit as parents.

I think the real problem is that adoptive parenthood is based solely on who can AFFORD it rather than who is best qualified.

I also find it ironic how many mothers like me were convinced to relinquish our rights because our children - we were told incessantly - "deserved" a mother and a father and now gays and singles adopt! Because it is not about morality but about who is financially FIT to parent.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there are any grounds for discrimination. As I stated previously, I know this is a controversial point and not PC.

I know a girl (now 19) who was adopted by a lesbian couple. She was treated unbelievably cruelly by her classmates. Way beyond the usual taunting of schoolkids. She was totally ostracized and had only one friend. As a result of her adoption and how she was treated her self-esteem is in the toilet.

I have no problem with the adults' relationship but as I stated previously they got to choose. I think this girl having to be part of the latest social experiment in adoption is cruel. Adoption is supposed to be, at least in theory, about the child. Her adoption was way more beneficial to the parents than it ever was for her. And I don't think the treatment the adoptee received would have been the same if she had been adopted by a heterosexual couple.

Mirah Riben said...

Yes, kids can be cruel. They tease, taunt, and bully any chance they get. Trans-nationally and interracially adopted children are subjected to it as well. Adult IAs report stereotyping and a great deal of ostracizing especially when they reach HS age.

I think that all non-traditional families owe it to their children to live in liberal, integrated areas of the country and within their states. It is especially difficult to deal with these unique situations in the middle of the Bible belt, for instance, as opposed to living in NYC. But we cannot prevent these kinds of families from forming. All we can do is make adoption less about who can afford it and find the best parents for children in need, not meet the needs of those seeking to adopt.

That's not being "PC" - it's the law of our land. Gvt agencies cannot discriminate.

Anonymous said...

You said : "In International adoption children go to whomever can afford to pay the piper ". This is not true. Adoptive couples have to meet the requirements of the govt agencies in whatever county they are adopting from. Most of those countries do not allow gays to adopt. Sometimes lesbians adopt by having one of the couple adopt as a single woman. China now prevents single women adopting, single men were never allowed to.

I am not sure why anyone (other than a bible thumper) would want to live in the Bible belt. That would be like someone who wasn't mormon living in Utah.

Mirah Riben said...

Thank you. You are quite right. Countries have their own regs. I was referring to the US agencies that process IAs.

You also bring up another issue: Same sex couples who do not reveal their true status. That could be particularly disturbing to a mother who might have chosen adoptive an parent under such a guise.

RussiaToday Apr 29, 2010 on Russian Adoption Freeze

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