Family Matters: Gay and Lesbian Adoption

The issue of allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children has been one of much debate, particularly in my state of Florida. From a sociological perspective, widespread homophobia is the leading cause of many denouncing same sex adoption. The ideal of a traditional nuclear family is one of the biggest obstacles homosexual couples encounter when facing the issue parenting. Gay men and lesbians are often viewed as excluded from having children because sexual reproduction is related to heterosexual couples only. Additionally, viewing homosexuality as a condition, we label homosexuals as deviant, therefore classifying them as unfit parents. Understanding the institution of the family is changing, we need to accept homosexuals are capable parents, and they do not produce dysfunctional behavior in children, nor detrimentally affect their well being. Research supports that there is no apparent difference in the mental health of children raised by homosexuals. “The quality of parenting, not the parent’s sexual orientation, it the primary factor in a child’s healthy development” (Savage 2001:A13).

Worldwide, adoption by same sex couples is receiving national recognition. Ontario, Canada, London and Manchester, England permit adoption by gay couples. In South Africa, two African judges successfully amended legislation to insure same sex life partners an opportunity to adopt children with the benefits afforded to married spouses. Sweden has also passed legislation permitting same sex partners to adopt children beginning in 2003, arguing there is no evidence that “adopted children are detrimentally affected by the sexual orientation of their parents” (Sultan 2000). This worldwide trend towards liberalism reflects how societies are recognizing same sex relationships just as valid as heterosexual relationships, thus enabling equality within adoption rights among heterosexual and homosexual adoptions, by shedding homosexual stereotypes.

Courts nationwide have been recognizing same sex adoption, due to increasing amounts of evidence demonstrating that gay parents do not detrimentally influence children in their upbringing. The vast majority of states no longer deny custody or visitation to a person based solely sexual orientation. Applying the, “best interest” approach, an individual’s sexual orientation cannot be the basis for terminating or restricting parent-child relationships unless it has demonstrated that it caused harm to a child. Endorsing this standard, more than twenty two states to date have allowed lesbians and gay men to adopt children through the state private adoption agencies. “The courts now realize that if children can adjust to stepfathers, adoptive fathers, live-in fathers, intermittent fathers and absent fathers, they can adjust to having two fathers (or two mothers)”. (Adopt Adapting 2002). The most common form of adoption consist of “one partner already has legal custody as a single parent, and the second partner, at a later time with in the adoption when it already has been finalized, petitions the court to allow a second parent adoption using the streamlined stepparent adoption.” (Petersons 2002:7D).This form of adoption allows homosexual couples to adopt child and receive parental benefits that heterosexual couples receive.

In 1977, Florida enacted a law that banned gays and lesbians from adopting children, passed in the aftermath of Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign targeted against gay rights. This law bans any gay man or lesbian women from adopting. Unfortunately, legislation in the state of Florida has hindered the opportunity of thousands of children trapped in the foster care system to find loving and supportive homes. “More than 100,000 gay or lesbian families in Northern California are raising children, and the movement is steadily growing as the rules permitting gays to become foster and adoptive parents are relaxed. Only three states, Florida, Utah and Mississippi, ban gay adoption” (Nhu 2002:1E). The national trend exhibits the wide acceptance of same sex adoption through out the United States. South Florida, comprised of a predominantly homosexual population specifically Miami Beach, is most affected by this law. An example of how this discriminatory law has disrupted various lives is that of Steven Lofton and Roger Croteau, a former Miami Beach couple, who are suing the state for the right to adopt their boy child. Florida officials seek to remove a 10-year-old boy from their custody which they have raised since infancy. Conservatives in Florida have successfully banned same sex adoptions within the state, driving prospective same sex parents to other states. As result, Florida has seen an increase in the overwhelming orphan population with in the state’s foster care system since prospective same sex couples seek adoptions in other states. Allowing same sex couples to adopt would help decrease the vast amounts of foster care children with the state.

The Child Welfare League of America, has brought it to the attention to the federal appeals court that Florida’s gay adoption ban “hurts kids statewide who are waiting for loving, supportive adoptive homes” (Farrington 2001:A3). Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has announced publicly its support for same sex adoption. The AAP based their decision on extensive studies on gay and lesbian adoption, which concluded that children parented by gays and lesbians “are adjusted socially and psychologically as children of heterosexual parents” (Family Values 2002:7). Furthermore, the ban on same sex adoption in Florida is unconstitutional. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution mandates equal protection to all citizens under the law. The government may not treat one group of people differently than others unless it sees it can produce some legitimate policy goal.

A ban on gay adoption singles out, and discriminates same sex couples wishing to adopt, and this ban does produce any legitimate policy goal. Additionally, the ACLU along with Florida’s First Project, is challenging the Florida law on behalf of three families. Laws regulating adoption are favorable if the protect and promote the well being of the child, not if they deny the opportunity for thousands of children to be placed in permanent, loving, supportive, and caring homes resulting from the adoption ban. Moreover, the foster care system is overhauled with more children than it is capable of handling, allowing same sex partners to adopt would alleviate such overloads.

The general social idea is that, both a mom and a dad are essential for a balanced upbringing. If we take the example of a boy, he needs both a mom and a dad for the various parts of his mental and physical development so he can turn out to be a normal man. The very fact that normal is dictated by society is the biggest downfall in this argument. If being gay were fully acknowledged by society and seen as part of being normal then there would be no problem with a “normal” gay person raising children. If homosexuality is genetic then being gay is part of being normal. This means that it would make sense if gay parents raised gay children for the very reason that the parents would be more open and less prejudiced about being gay. Another advantage of gay parents raising children is that they are raised in a world that they can see both sides to sexuality and they can make a more informed choice and follow their inner sexuality.

Structural functionalists hold children need a role model, both male and female. Conservatives assert that homosexuals can not provide proper gender identity to their children due to the lack of opposite sexed parent. “As children age, they begin realize that their family differs from normal families which may lead to isolation, and disapproval among peers. The children of such couples are more likely to also lead dysfunctional lifestyles” (Kennedy 2002: 8). The structural functionalist view holds that the expressive role and instrumental role are mutually exclusive, and assumes their assignment is based on sex. This is a key factor why they believe that homosexuals can not parent children. This theory it today is challenged by many contemporary sociologists. In today’s society we see the contrary; many single parent families take on both the instrumental role of the father, and expressive role of the mother. Consequently, homosexual couples also take on both roles, illustrating that these roles are not sex based, or biologically exclusive.

Gender stereotypes influence people acceptance of homosexual parenting. Many individuals still view the traditional nuclear family as the model for parenting, consisting of a mother and father of opposite sexes, each of which brings their own individualistic traits and characteristics specific to their gender. These gender roles, maintain structural functionalists, are a natural part of phenomena deriving from our human biology. Therefore, homosexual parents are unnatural; they can not aptly parent children because they lack a partner of the opposite sex. Same sex partners can not fulfill the gender roles of heterosexual couples. Gay couples are not recognized as families. Consequently, conservatives hold they can not provide the reputable upbringing a traditional family that a heterosexual couple can provide. On the other hand, shouldn’t single parents also be unnatural. Missing the complimenting gender role of the absent partner, one would expect to encounter an inadequately socialized child. This is not the case, as single parents are seen more fit parents than homosexual parents. Furthermore, through out the decades we have seen the shift to single parent families increasing with in our society, primarily due to divorce and many children being born out of wedlock. If children are best raised in traditional nuclear families, then single parents also should not be allowed to adopt or raise children. Homosexuals are solely discriminated due to an alternate lifestyle.

Society must come to realize that every family, not just gay headed families, experience problems in their homes. An article which depicts some of the major problems that some single mothers experience is: Manhunts’ and Bingo Blabs’: Single mothers speak out. This article will assist one in realizing that some individuals will face some dilemmas and issues in life, but it is those issues and how a family deals with them effectively that will make them stronger as a family unit. Everyone deals with pressures of everyday life and it is those who learn by them that are prosperous. With specific reference to child rearing, parents were told that problems arise in all homes, with all children, and at all ages, the interesting fact being that the problems do or do not arise but what method should be employed in dealing with them when they arise (Peterson, 2002). Problems in the home are inevitable, in all forms of families, A family is based on trust and love, and if that is what these gay and lesbians parents are providing for their children, then why not let them live as they want.

Reliable evidence demonstrates that the sexual orientation of parents has no impact on the sexual orientation of their children and that children of lesbian and gay parents are no more likely than any other child to grow up to be gay, as found by the work of Bailey, Bobrow, Wolfe, Mikarch. Bigner, and Jacobsen. They found gay fathers were generally stricter, but were also more responsive, and took more care in socializing their children than their non-gay counterparts. These studies illustrate that homosexuals have the ability to be good parents. The studies indicate that sexual orientation has no measurable effect on the quality of parent-child relationships or on the mental health of children.

Other studies have found differences in children raised by homosexuals. These differences are not necessarily negative. One must expect some difference between children raised by parents of the same sex couples versus parents of heterosexual couples. Examining some differences, we can see that homosexual couples can positively influence their children. A new study by University of Southern California sociologists states children with lesbian or gay parents show more empathy for social diversity and are less confined by gender stereotypes. USC sociologists Timothy Biblarz and Judith Stacey examined 21 studies on the subject dating back to 1980 and found that children of lesbians and gays are more likely to depart from traditional gender roles than children of heterosexual couples. Their findings were published in the American Sociological Review. Judith Stacey is a professor of contemporary gender studies who primarily focused on lesbian couples and parenting. She states that there are in fact some advantages to an all-female parental team without Dad living in the home. A female couple tends to be more involved in the children’s lives and is in greater harmony in terms of parenting approaches. This study also concluded lesbian mothers tend to have a feminizing effect on their sons, and a masculinizing effect on their daughters, thus breaking traditional gender stereotypes.

Gay parents can be good role models. Sexual orientation does not make an individual any less respectable or apt to be a role model. Children in foster care have neither a mother nor a father as role models. Parents are not the only role models in children’s life, role models can be taken from various aspects of society. Statements that homosexuals are more likely to molest children are inaccurate. As noted by Dailey, ninety percent of child abuse is committed by heterosexual men. In one study of 269 cases of child sexual abuse, only two offenders were gay or lesbian. There is no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.

Conservatives argue that the child’s best interest must be taken into consideration when placing them with adoptive parents, specifically gay couples. The problem with such a statement is the meaning is all in the eye of the beholder. As the key issue in their debate, it lacks clarity. Conservatives believe that homosexual parents are not fit in socializing children and teaching them proper values, leading to further deviance from the norm, which will therefore lead to a greater breakdown of the institution of the family. They believe homosexual parents can not provide proper gender identity to adoptive children, thus, leading the child to be confused about their gender roles. “We cannot risk creating a nation of sexually confused children by experimenting with homosexual adoptions or homosexual marriages,” (Kennedy 2002: 8). As children age, they begin realize that their family differs from normal families which may lead to isolation, and disapproval among peers. The children of such couples are more likely to also lead dysfunctional lifestyles. Convincing conservatives to shed these stereotypes is the first step to legalizing gay adoption in Florida.

The main concern of society isn’t that gays as humans are raising children but the affect that being gay is going to have on the children, and whether or not they are going to turn out “normal”. An American study found that children of homosexual parents have similar IQs, develop typical friendships, have a normal mental health and are no more likely to be confused about their sexuality (Savage 2001). This is not to say that the children are distributed in the same ratio in sexual preference. Actually, homosexual parents have a higher percentage of gay offspring. This is unlikely to do with the parenting style of the gay parents; however, considering that the latest research shows that homosexuality is largely genetic (Savage 2001).
“In order to keep pace with these evolving social patterns in which same-sex couples choose to raise children, a new definition of the term “family” and ” parent” is necessary, whereby same-sex life partners are granted the same advantages and rights granted to persons within traditional family relationships, including, but not limited to, the right to adopt.” (Sultan 2002). The conservative view of family is the reason why some individuals denounce same sex adoption. Taking the “best interest of the child” into account, a permanent loving family, be it with homosexual or heterosexual parents, clearly is the best option versus foster care. Sultan also points out, while most courts do not expressly state that a parent’s homosexuality is a bar to his/her adoption rights, judicial preference for married couples inevitably prejudices gay and lesbian couples, regardless of their genuineness and stability.

Homosexuals raising children in permanent healthy, supportive, and nurturing environments deserve the support, and legal custody of their children, as homosexual adoptive parents. The children of lesbian and gay parents grow up well adjusted to society and do not suffer from any mental, gender role identity problems. The issue of homosexual parenting and adoption is best decided by parents and professionals on a case-by-case basis, not by politicians or the government. Political activists can not determine the best interest of a child by a law, nor can it discriminate the gay community by stating they are unfit parents.

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