Catholic League Vs. Adoptive Parents

by Walter Olson on April 15, 2012

Bill Donohue’s Catholic League, long known for its hostility toward gays, on Wednesday found a new group to antagonize when it Tweeted the following:

Lesbian Dem Hilary Rosen tells Ann Romney she never worked a day in her life. Unlike Rosen, who had to adopt kids, Ann raised 5 of her own.

Outraged reactions from adoptive parents lit up the web. Writes blogger Eric Kirk, “I guess adoptive parenting isn’t real parenting and our kids aren’t ‘our own.’” Notes Malinda at China AdoptionTalk, “This tweet certainly shows that adoption stigma is alive and well.”

The League’s sentiments were also roundly and promptly condemned by a long list of conservative, Republican and traditionalist commentators, including RNC communications director Sean Spicer (“The @CatholicLeague should be encouraging adoption, not demeaning the parents who are blessed to raise these children”); blogger Elizabeth Scalia; The American Conservative contributing editor Michael Brendan Dougherty; and Michael Potemra at National Review (“thuggishness…hateful”).

Dougherty says of Donohue “I just wish people would stop funding him,” which is certainly an understandable sentiment. But if people do keep sending Donohue checks to keep enabling his garish and contentious presence in American public life, perhaps it’s because they’re reading the signals given by respectable figures in his Church. As Commonweal points out, “Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who surely ought to know better, gives Donohue friendly cover on a regular basis,” as do many other top churchmen. For confirmation, take a look at the League’s “About Us” page, which includes, along with a string of endorsements by leading archbishops, a “Board of Advisers” that lists pretty much every prominent traditionalist Catholic intellectual: Hadley Arkes, Gerard Bradley, Robert George, Michael Novak, George Weigel and so forth. The support of these big names is a crucial reason Donohue is taken seriously, and makes it idle to try to dismiss his League as some sort of fringe group with no real constituency. If his group indulges in schoolyard taunting, it is a schoolyard just one jump away from Notre Dame, Amherst, and Princeton.

There are lessons for gays, I think, in the long and heartening story of how adoption came to lose the social stigma once attached to it. Before “love makes a family” was ever a gay-rights slogan, it was a truth to which adoptive families had been given special access. Lurking behind both disapproval of adoptive families and disapproval of gays is the prejudice that in the final analysis only biological, “natural” ways of forging family connections really count. Only a generation or two ago, during the same general period that most gays were constrained to lead lives of deep concealment, it was common for adoptive parents to conceal the fact of adoption, not only from neighbors and teachers, but even from children themselves. We now realize that an obligation to keep big secrets, especially secrets about love and commitment and the supposed shame that should attach to family structure, is too great a burden to carry around without good reason.

We do not need the Catholic League’s offensive tweets to remind us that anti-adoption attitudes are still with us. In many parts of the world, especially those where a more tribal approach to family life has not yet yielded to modernity, adoption is culturally or even legally disapproved and raw biology does rule the day, to the great detriment of stray children who languish on the streets or in institutions. When modernist views of adoption advance, and likewise when same-sex marriage advances, more people find “forever families” to love and to commit to their care. That is why both march alongside in the genuine pro-family cause.

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