It had seemed as if the stereotypical fears surrounding homosexuality were disappearing these days. It was just last month when the Boston Globe reported it would, like the New York Times, begin publishing announcements of gay and lesbian unions. Two years ago, Vermont became the first state to formally recognize civil unions, providing gay couples with many of the same rights, benefits and responsibilities of traditional marriage. Debuting its fifth season this fall, the critically acclaimed NBC television show, “Will and Grace” has two gay characters, including network primetime’s first gay male lead. Yet, in spite of these advances, the U.S. is one of the few modern, democratic nations that continues to allow the banning of gay and lesbian adoptions. Last May, the United Kingdom officially eliminated its ban, allowing all gay couples to adopt. They follow in the footsteps of four other European nations including Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and the Netherlands. It is about time the United States joined them.
In 1977, caught up in irrational fears, stereotypes and prejudices, the Florida state legislature rushed to be the first state in the union to ban gay adoptions. As much as conservatives may like to claim, this ban has never been about the best interests of the children. Instead, one of the ban’s original sponsors, former state Sen. Curtis Peterson explained it was about weakening the gay community. He blatantly argued when it was first introduced, “The problem in Florida has been that homosexuals are surfacing to such an extent that they’re beginning to aggravate the ordinary folk. We’re trying to send them a message: We are tired of you and wish you would go back into the closet.”
Unfortunately, by categorically eliminating qualified homes from consideration, the Florida law rules out a large population of people who could potentially provide permanent homes for the children who desperately need them. Today, half-a-million children are in foster care nationwide with more than 100,000 waiting for adoptive homes. In Florida, there are 3,400 children in temporary foster care and at least 1,600 may never be placed in a stable, loving home like the one provided by Steve Lofton and his partner Roger Croteau.
In fact, 22 leading studies solidly refute the idea that gay parents and their children are not as healthy and happy as other families. Studies conducted over the past two decades have compared gay families to heterosexual ones, comparing the quality of parent/child relationships as well as the children’s psychological well-being, relationships with their peers and self-esteem. Not a single reputable study has found that lesbian or gay parents are bad parents or that their sexual orientation harms the children they raise.
As a result, a wide range of highly regarded organizations including the American Psychological Association, the National Council for Adoptable Children and the Child Welfare League of America all support the elimination of the ban on gay adoption. The American Academy of Pediatrics called for its members to provide adoptions to same-sex couples and to “support the right of each child to the financial, psychological, and legal security that results from having legally recognized parents who are committed to each other and the welfare of their children.”
The law unfairly discriminates against gay parents, denying them the right to prove their parental credentials in a court of law. No other group of individuals is so openly discriminated against in this process. Even convicted felons who want to adopt are given higher priority.
Instead of making child placement decisions based on pernicious stereotypes, social workers should be making decisions on a case-by-case basis with all applicants. There should not be any separate litmus test for gays and lesbians. After all, not all heterosexual couples qualify to be foster or adoptive parents. In fact, not all heterosexuals qualify to be biological parents, as they are the reason why we currently have so many children in the foster care system.
And in the midst of this whole controversy, remember those who are being hurt the most: the children without permanent homes. Their vital needs cannot be ignored simply because of misconceptions held against a specific community. Adoption has to be opened up and liberated of persistent stereotypes so that the best interests of the child will truly be our only priority.
Anat Maytal ’05, a Crimson editor, is a government concentrator in Currier House.