You may have noticed — I certainly have — that for the past year or two the NOM/Witherspoon Institute/Princeton crowd’s campaign against gay marriage has been steadily reorganizing itself as a campaign against gay parenthood. Increasingly, as a powerful Esquire piece by Tom Junod argues, that campaign is resulting in the belittlement of non-biologically-based family forms — and among the targets to suffer collateral damage are adoptive families whether straight or gay.
Until lately, NOM and its friends had actually spent little time criticizing adoption by gays, and some had even put in a kind word for it. Many anti-gay activists were also active in the anti-abortion movement, which generally regards adoption as an extremely good thing. But with the new strategy shift a distinctly harsher line has emerged. Any parental structure other than a married biological mother and father, it is now argued, should be presumed to inflict damage on kids.
There began a search for evidence to back up this thesis. When the exceedingly weak Regnerus study burst on the scene last year — purporting to find that children of gay parents do much less well on a range of social health indicators — critics quickly shredded its methodology, and noted that it had been financed by a $695,000 Witherspoon Institute grant; more recently it was confirmed that in the study’s rush to publication, sponsors had one eye on the likelihood of its use in a Supreme Court case. And sure enough, the much-refuted Regnerus study is now the centerpiece of “empirical” social-conservative arguments in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. Adding a reality-television dimension, when internal documents from the National Organization for Marriage were disclosed in litigation last year, they revealed that, as I noted at the time, “NOM had budgeted $120,000 for a project to locate children of gay households willing to denounce their parents on camera.”
Junod was taken aback to find NOM’s literature, as it extolled the “natural family,” casually denigrate the role of nonbiological parents:
The conservative movement that once minimized the difficulties of adoption because it provided an alternative to abortion is now both explicitly and implicitly denigrating adoption precisely because it provides an alternative to the perfect biological families said to have a patent on God’s purpose. Adoption is not essential to same-sex marriage; it is, however, essential to many same-sex couples who wish to build families, and since families present all marriages with a built-in case for their own legitimacy, it is adoption, as well as same-sex marriage, that has come under attack.
Even if you’ve come to expect the attacks, the sheer virulence can surprise. Jennifer Roback Morse, who directs NOM’s research affiliate Ruth Institute, has publicly termed it a “breach of faith” for orphanages to place children with gay parents — though as she surely is aware the alternative for many orphanage children is never to find parents at all. In the Witherspoon Institute publication Public Discourse, favorite NOM author Robert Oscar Lopez goes so far as to denounce international adoption as “trafficking” — an attack that in its viciousness cannot by its nature be limited just to those adopters who are gay, since straight and gay intending parents alike navigate the international adoption process in the same ways using the same agencies and methods.
Last year, when Catholic League founder and perennial anti-gay commentator Bill Donohue insulted Hilary Rosen’s adoptive family — he wrote that Rosen “had to adopt kids,” in contrast to Ann Romney who “raised 5 of her own” — I wrote the following:
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.
P.S. On how gays succeeded in becoming parents in large numbers before opponents really took notice of the trend and could organize to block it — a remarkable instance of the benefits of America’s open order, in which social innovations are generally legal unless affirmatively banned rather than the reverse — don’t miss a new Washington Monthly article by Alison Gash.
P.P.S. Ramesh Ponnuru responds at National Review. Most of his piece concentrates on points where he and I disagree little if at all (I’m not offended by the Ross Douthat column, for example) while skirting the elements of NOM/Witherspoon propaganda I found more offensive, such as the NOM pamphlet Junod cites (PDF) by Jennifer Roback Morse. While I could go on for hours about the problems with this pamphlet, note especially its items 22-28 which weirdly conflate stepparent family structure with adoptive or planned-gay-family structure as “non-biological,” and erroneously proceeds as if the negative outcomes long associated in family studies with the former (which of course typically arises following traumatic family events such as divorce) can be imputed to the latter.