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Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
Should Gay Couples Adopt?
“Thirty Days,” a television series on FX, recently ran a program entitled “Same Sex Parenting.” The program was about “Tom and Dennis,” a homosexual couple from Ann Arbor, MI (my neighborhood) who foster-adopted four boys, and “Katie,” a Mormon woman from California who was herself both an adoptee and adoptive parent.
Katie moved into Tom and Dennis’ home for thirty days, in an attempt to persuade her to change her conviction that gay and lesbian couples should not be allowed to foster or adopt children. (She kept referring to this alternately as her “belief” and “opinion.”)
The persuasion took a variety of forms, including …
This last point is usually the argument most groups return to, as it is the most difficult to refute. For a long time I avoided writing on this particular subject for the simple reason that I, too, had SEEN such a group home, and was horrified by the conditions in which the kids were living. Were the children truly better off in a place like this than with a gay couple? And, if so, how?
Watching “30 Days,” the answer became very clear to me. The first clue came when I saw that Katie was put on the hot seat over and over again for her “opinions,” yet at no time did the tables turn. Tom and Dennis were never made to sit down with sociologists or psychologists or theologians who could ask them the hard questions about what they were teaching the children about heterosexual relationships, and how it might affect the future ability of these children to form healthy families. No one suggested that any other considerations (including the developmental needs of the kids) might trump their “right” to have a family. They were never asked to confront anything more persuasive than “I’m sorry, but this is what I think.”
What they want you to presume, of course, is that no such considerations exist. And yet they do exist, and cannot be discounted without doing real and lasting damage to the well-being of children who have already suffered so much. Here are a few of them:
In many adoption circles, it is considered highly undesirable to place an African-American child (or a child from any other non-white background) with a Caucasian couple. No matter how loving or well intentioned, the argument goes, the white couple is intrinsically “different” from the child, unable to give that child the tools he or she needs to get along in his particular corner of the world. Some couples attempt to overcome this by exposing the child to others with similar backgrounds at school, in church, and even on play dates. However, in a very real sense, a white parent can never hope to teach by example what it is to be part of that particular community.
Similarly, homosexual or lesbian couples cannot teach children by example the skills they will need to grow up and form healthy heterosexual relationships. Because the gay and lesbian community tends to form a distinctive subculture within mainstream society, the pressure to accept the gay lifestyle as “normal” or even desirable could not help but form an indelible impression on the children placed in their care. The tensions (such as those seen on the show) between the two camps cannot help but have a negative effect on the kids.
At one point in the program, one of the men (I think it was Dennis) commented on how the kids hadn’t warmed up to Katie. “I haven’t seen them hug her even once, and they are normally very affectionate kids,” he said. In reality, the children had picked up on the tensions in the house, between their “dads” and this lady who “didn’t want them to be a family.” Children tend to take their cues from their parents … and these two had already branded Katie “the enemy.”
In the “30 Days” episode, a young child – six or seven years old – going to his first day at school was admonished by his “dad” to choose whether or not to tell his classmates that he has two dads. Katie was horrified by this. “You’re asking a six year old to make decisions about something he shouldn’t have been exposed to in the first place!”
While her horror is justifiable, the reality is that this kind of decision making about how much information to share, and with whom, is all too common for foster children and adopted children. This is especially true when children are adopted outside their racial or ethnic group; their coloring makes it immediately evident that their natural parents are not raising them. Children pick up on this quickly, and questions such as, “So where are your real parents?” or “How come you don’t live with your real parents?” are all too common. Responsible parents talk with their children ahead of time, and help them to decide how to respond to these personal questions.
Although many schools try to smooth over these differences in the name of “tolerance,” the bottom line is that these children are forced to be a constant reminder of a lifestyle many other parents strongly object to … which only adds to their sense of being “different” or “unlovable,” making them unwitting (and undeserving) targets.
Children raised in gay or lesbian households don’t get to experience the positive ways men and women complement and complete each other, especially within marriage. Rather, they are subjected to conflicting and contradictory messages in their adoptive homes, no matter how otherwise “loving” and “supportive.” For these children, the “theology of the body” is all but lost, and their inherent dignity is further obscured.
This is a core reality that is systematically denied by the gay and lesbian community, or relegated to simple “opinion” instead of a fundamental truth, inscribed in natural law. Therefore Church teaches that the gay lifestyle is “intrinsically disordered,” unsuitable for children (just as it would be undesirable to place a child in a home with an alcoholic, violent, or schizophrenic parent).
The Nature of Family
The Church holds that children are to be conceived within the marriage act, and raised by their natural parents. Anything else – including adoption – can at best redeem an undesirable situation. Apart from that natural order are alternatives that can meet some of the needs of a particular child. However, each time we take a step away from that original plan – even for very serious reasons – it leaves an indelible mark on the child.
For that reason, it is always necessarily to look primarily to the needs of the child, rather than the desires of adoptive or foster parents, to determine how that child’s needs can best be met. (This principle is an important one for foster parents to remember as they support the plan for reunification, knowing that helping parents to raise their own children is infinitely better than separating a child from his natural parents altogether.)
Children need a family that includes both a mother and a father. God designed the family this way, to originate with a complementary union of the sexes that is reflected in natural law. Therefore, if and when two parents are unable or unwilling to care for their children, a difficult choice must be made. Is that child’s needs best met by one biological parent, with the support of extended family? Or to place the child in the home of another married couple?
This is a heavily debated question, for which there are no easy answers. Within my own family, three out-of-wedlock births resulted in two of those children being raised by their mothers (with very real emotional scars inflicted on both children by their birth fathers and the men who later married my sisters but resented their “baggage”). Although I love my niece and nephew dearly, I cannot help but wonder if both of them would have been better off had they been placed with another family at birth. (My niece was ultimately blessed with an adoring adoptive dad when my sister married her second husband.)
Having said that, there is a growing understanding of how adoption impacts children over the long term. Even those who are raised in loving homes speak of their sense of being “different” – and of their divided loyalties stemming from the bond they share with two sets of parents, each of whom is very “real” to them.
So … Is Single-Parent Adoption an Option?
Single adults can and do foster and adopt children who may very well never otherwise have a home. However, these families are saddled with challenges faced by both single natural parents and adoptive married parents. They must provide for, bond with, and nurture the child without the biological connection of a single natural parent. (And do not have the built-in support system from which a married adoptive couple benefits.)
The difficulty with single-parent adoptions is twofold: First, while placing a child within a single-parent household seems preferable to housing that child in an orphanage or group home, it also prevents the child from being adopted by a two-parent family.
Second, this placement has very real long-term consequences for both the parent and the child. The natural order of family life is disrupted for the parent, who must set aside his or her legitimate desire for a spouse in order to tend to the needs of that child. Although God is able to bring a suitable partner into that single parent’s life, his or her prior commitment – to the child – must come first. (Sadly, when the parent loses sight of this commitment it is the child, rather than the parent, who suffers.)
Individuals who choose to forego marriage in order to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the needs of their children are to be commended for this remarkable kind of self-donating love. Their personal sacrifice is very real, and so they embody in a special way the love of God.
Unlike gay and lesbian couples, single parents can model in a unique way the goodness of God’s plan for marriage through their own words and by seeking out married families in their community without confusing the child. For this reason, even single parenting is vastly superior to same-sex parenting, which involves a sexual relationship that blatantly contradicts the principles of natural law and God’s design for the human person.
Whenever human choices cause them to take steps that are outside the revealed will of God, there are consequences that are very real, and often far-reaching. If Adam and Eve had imagined that a bite of fruit would have sent them so far from the Garden, do you think they would have taken that first bite?
The children currently in the system, most of whom have been brought into this world through the ill advised and often sinful actions of their parents, are suffering. There is no denying this. They are growing up in a world that is harsh and by all accounts unloving.
There was a time when whole religious orders were dedicated to caring for such children, forms of which continue to this day. However, no institution – no matter how well organized, or well-intentioned – can take the place of the family. The first Christians had a tremendous influence on the Roman Empire for the simple reason that they tended to the needs of the poor and marginalized, especially its discarded children.
To the extent – and ONLY to the extent – that we are prepared to respond with tangible help, can we hope to effect real, lasting change. And so, there is only viable response to the social worker who says, “What can I do? Send them to the group home … or with Tom and Steve?”
The answer is the same as the one Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta so often gave. “Give those children to me.”
Copyright 2008 Heidi Hess Saxton
2037 W. Bullard #247
Fresno, CA 93711
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