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Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton

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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 …

  • Dinnertime confrontations: “Are you saying that these kids would be better off in a group home than with us? Are you saying that we’re bad parents?”
  • Mandatory attendance at gay and lesbian events and support groups, in which participants took turns at using her for target practice for her “prejudices.” (Groups included COLAGE, an Ann Arbor group for children raised in same-sex parent households and CARE, an advocacy group that seeks to have laws passed to protect same-sex couples.)
  • Forced labor, in which she had to hand out flyers to businesses in the downtown area (the owners had clearly been coached to make barbed comments about “those people” who are treading upon their rights).
  • Two social workers from Detroit took Katie into a crumbling neighborhood, to see a group home in which one of them had been raised, to demonstrate how much better off children are with ANY family than in a group home.

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:

  1. Children adopted by gay and lesbian couples are absorbed into a subculture is intrinsically different from the one in which they originated, and to which they very likely belong.

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.”

  1. Children placed in gay and lesbian homes are exposed to greater censure and scrutiny by their peers than other adopted and foster children.

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.

Unfortunately, children raised in gay and lesbian households suffer an additional level of scrutiny. Their desire to blend in to their peer group is frustrated each time “both dads” or “both moms” show up for ballgames or other class events, or they are asked to do projects about their families. (Children raised by single parents generally do not have the same difficulties because of the prevalence of divorce.)

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.

  1. Children placed in gay and lesbian homes are not taught how to embrace God’s design for family life.

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.

So … Back to the Orphanage?

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

Heidi Hess Saxton and her husband Craig adopted their two foster children in 2005. She is editor of “Canticle” magazine ( and author of Raising Up Mommy: Virtues for Difficult Mothering Moments and Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert. You may order both books at Heidi blogs for adoptive parents, Catholic writers, and has a new blog dedicated to Mary ( Visit Heidi's newest website, the Extraordinary Moms Network, for encouragment and information.

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7/07/08 Recommends:


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Books by Heidi Hess Saxton:

Raising Up Mommy: A Study in Womanly Vice and Virtue

Behold Your Mother 

Let Nothing Trouble You: 60 Reflections from the Writings of Teresa of Avila (The Saints Speak Today) 

Dine Without Whine - A Family Friendly Weekly Menu Plan


Adoption Article Archives:

The "Prayer of Abandonment" for Adoptive Parents

Father, we abandon ourselves into your hands,
to send a child ... or not ... as you see fit.
You by whom the Word was made flesh,
send us a miracle, if this is what you desire.
Or lead us to her, if that be your will.

We do not ask for guarantees; no parent can.
Only light enough for the very next step.
We do not ask for a perfect child,
nor can we promise to be perfect parents.
Whatever you choose for us, whatever you desire
we abandon ourselves to your perfect will.

We are ready to offer our daily "yes,"
until that perfect will be revealed in us.
And until, at last perfected, we bear witness
to the work of redemption you began in Eden.

We love you, Lord, and offer ourselves to you,
wholly and without reservation.
We surrender ourselves, moment by moment,
knowing that this is only the first small step
Of a lifetime of surrender,
so that we may be made more perfect in love.
That we might imitate, on earth as in heaven,
the redemptive love
the adoptive love
the selfless love
with which you first loved us.


Adoption Resources:
These resources have been recommended by our readers.  To suggest a link or book, email [email protected] with your suggestion.

Helpful Links:

*Several readers have recommended local DHS and Catholic Charities for adoption resources. 

Little Flowers Foundation

Catholic Charities USA

National Council for Adoption

Priests for Life Alternatives to Abortion Resource Page

US Department of Health and Human Services

National Adoption

Information Clearinghouse

Catholic International Adoptive Parents Yahoo Group




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