As gay families come under attack, adoptive families suffer collateral damage

by Walter Olson on March 30, 2013

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.

{ 14 comments }

Tom Scharbach March 30, 2013 at 9:16 am

Good post, Walter.

As the anti-marriage movement gets more and more desperate, more and more people are going to connect the dots. And the more people who connect the dots, the more people will see us as “like me” and our situation “like mine”.

The idea that adoptive parents aren’t as good as parents is implicit in the “biological mommy and daddy” screed that the anti-marriage movement has been putting out for years now, but the anti-marriage movement has been able to get away with implying that “fact” rather than saying it because people didn’t have to think much about the argument when gays and lesbians were seen as “other”.

Now that more and more people are seeing us as “like”, they can’t get away with it any more, without similarly-situated straights thinking about the connection between what the anti-marriage movement is saying and themselves. The “biological mommy and daddy” argument is an attack on straight adoptive parents, too, and adoptive parents are connecting the dots in the magazines that are directed to adoptive parents, straight and gay alike.

Sooner or later, the parents in “blended families” — parents who have divorced and remarried and who are doing their best to raise the kids of one other the other, or both — will also pick up on the implicit attack on them in the “biological mommy and daddy” line of attack on us. And then it will be single mothers and fathers., who really struggle as parents.

When we were uniformly despised, hidden away, the anti-marriage crowd could get away with fear-mongering, and few straight people connected the dots to themselves. Times are changing. We came out to our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, and we are quickly arriving at a point where the more the anti-marriage movement spokesmen spew animosity toward us, the more people connect the dots to themselves and come to our side.

Bring it on.

Houndentenor March 30, 2013 at 10:34 am

I completely agree.

Are social conservatives trying to alienate the vast majority of Americans? I know plenty of Evangelicals who adopted children. I know plenty of people who were adopted or who adopted children. Pres. Ford was adopted. Chief Justice Roberts has two adopted children. Adoption is good. What is the alternative? For loving parents to remain childless while orphaned or abandoned children grow up without parents? Who benefits from that system? Who is harmed? It’s appalling.

I often wonder if social conservatives are really this tone deaf or are they intentionally trying to alienate almost everyone? Certainly many who are opposed to gay marriage are offended by the stigmatization of adoption. What are they thinking? Or are they thinking at all?

Lori Heine March 30, 2013 at 11:41 am

These people are showing themselves for the nasty pieces of work they are. I think this will backfire. The sliminess is becoming increasingly evident, as is the viciousness of their arguments.

To denigrate families — including children whom their selectively oh-so-holy rhetoric implies they want to protect — is not “Christian,” it is un-Christian. The NOM crowd and the hardline Vatican loons have nothing but contempt for their fellow human beings. According to the very theology in which they claim to believe, this means they have no respect for God.

Houndentenor March 30, 2013 at 1:36 pm

People keep asking how opinion could move from against to for gay marriage so quickly. It is baffling, except when something like this reminds us of how. It’s not that our national groups did a good job of making our case. For the most part they have done a lousy job. Individuals talking to friends, family and colleagues about their lives has helped tremendously, but I think that the biggest thing helping us is the increasing ugliness of the anti-gay attacks. Most people (sadly not all) are smart enough to realize that if you can demonize another group this way that they might be next. Also, they just said that awful thing about their friend, relative or colleague. Who in their right mind is against adoption? You’re right, Lori. It shows just how mean-sprited they are. And they’re so consumed by their anti-gay bigotry they don’t care how awful they sound. As much as I want to have some Schadenfreude about this kind of thing, it just makes me sad that people can be so lacking in empathy and compassion for other people.

Tom Scharbach March 30, 2013 at 1:55 pm

For the most part they have done a lousy job. Individuals talking to friends, family and colleagues about their lives has helped tremendously, but I think that the biggest thing helping us is the increasing ugliness of the anti-gay attacks.

Yup. The anti-marriage crowd is their own worst enemy.

Social conservatives got away with it back in the days before the anti-marriage amendment fights, when gays and lesbians living “normal” lives (couples, families, kids) kept mostly to themselves, and the image of gays and lesbians was confined to pride parades (in all their wonderful glory).

But that changed when the anti-marriage crowd took on marriage, because that fight was about gays and lesbians living “normal” lives, or aspiring to do so.

The anti-marriage amendment fights energized the “quiet ones”, as John Rechy called us. In the aftermath of every amendment fight, the number of reported gay and lesbian households tripled or quadrupled in the state in which the fight was held. The “quiet ones” came out and started living in the open. When that happened, straight people got to know about us all, and changed their views about us.

What social conservatives did was poke a stick in a hornet’s nest. We’re no different than anyone else in one regard — we’ll fight right into the jaws of hell for our families. And we did.

And so now it looks like the social conservatives are going to poke sticks into more hornet’s nests — families with adopted children, “blended” families, and single-parent families.

Well, I say go for it. When they went after our families, social conservatives shot themselves in the foot. If they go after straight non-traditional families, they’ll be shooting themselves right square in the head.

Mike in Houston March 30, 2013 at 12:37 pm

WBC disrupted funerals of LGBT people for more than 20 years with nary a blip outside the gay community… When they started doing it at military funerals, all of a sudden, the Hells Angels ride in.

If I were the anti-marriage equality crowd, I would worry.

Jorge March 30, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Fascinating. I will be sure to pay attention.

WBC disrupted funerals of LGBT people for more than 20 years with nary a blip outside the gay community… When they started doing it at military funerals, all of a sudden, the Hells Angels ride in.

If I were the anti-marriage equality crowd, I would worry.

Among adoptive parents, I’ve seen my share of cannibals, and I’ve seen my share of crusaders.

I wonder how many of the holy intellectual farts out there can say the same?

Houndentenor March 31, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I can’t name a single cannibal or crusader. What I have seen are the same sort of flawed but mostly good people who raise their children the same way people who raised their own biological children did. They weren’t any better or worse. Well, maybe not so many on the extreme end since anyone can make a baby but you do have to pass some screening processes in order to adopt. But no saints or monsters, except for a few monsters who made the news. None that I know personally are anything other than the kind of parents with which we are all familiar.

I would like to point out that Dr Laura frequently claimed that no one could possibly love children that weren’t their own biological offspring. My own personal observations contradict that. Of course, she was fond of saying all sorts of hateful things to people who were looking for advice and for some reason thought they’d find it from her. (Really, what were they thinking? They’d get better personal advice from practically any stranger on the street than “Dr” Laura Schlessinger.)

Tom Scharbach March 30, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Among adoptive parents, I’ve seen my share of cannibals, and I’ve seen my share of crusaders.

I know about a half dozen couples who adopted, including one couple within my own family. For the most part what I’ve seen are normal parents, doing a good job of raising the kids.

I’ve seen a lot of step-parents and “blended families” along the way, too. Most all of them are doing just fine with the kids.

What the fools from NOM and the other anti-marriage groups want us to forget is that during most of human history, many biological parents died young, and step-parents were common.

Ironic, isn’t it, that NOM’s “Natural Family” crusader organization is named “The Ruth Institute”? Naomi would be laughing her ass off sideways.

Not funny is that The Ruth Institute’s “Dr. J” — Jennifer Roback Morse — is an adoptive parent herself. She should know better. For shame.

Hunter March 31, 2013 at 2:42 pm

“Not funny is that The Ruth Institute’s “Dr. J” — Jennifer Roback Morse — is an adoptive parent herself. She should know better.”

It doesn’t apply to them. It’s only about other people. And I suspect that’s a key factor in the apparent tone-deafness — NOM, FRC, AFA and the like simply don’t recognize other points of view as valid, to the extent that they don’t really believe they exist. That, and they don’t seem to connect the dots themselves, or simply assume that their audiences are incapable of it. After all, they don’t have much respect for people to begin with — can you imagine what they must think about people who actually believe the junk they spew?

Houndentenor March 31, 2013 at 3:35 pm

What I find frustrating (and I find this with other kinds of beliefs as well including many liberals) is that you can talk them through why this line of thinking is illogical and they’ll agree. Then a few days later you’ll find them spewing the same nonsense again. I just don’t get it. They aren’t stupid. Are they just that desperate to find a rationalization to justify their own prejudices that it blinds them to reason?

Mike in Houston March 31, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Fire eaters have to eat fire, even if they have to use themselves as kindling.

It’s also telling that they are all on a “we’re being oppressed” kick – screaming about “free speech” being trampled – all because (to them) “free speech” = being able to say what hey want without having others call them out on it.

Regan DuCasse April 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm

” …The more tribal approach the family life that has not yet yielded to modernity…”
I’ve noticed this specifically about the so called Christian motivation coming from NOM, FRC and so on, for anti marriage equality laws. Their belief taking it’s cues from a barbaric and less socially just, tribal and clannish Biblical cultures.
Their concern isn’t for ALL children who need a stable home, married committed parents and compassion.
But their sole political aim, is to retain social and political privilege ONLY to the idealized nuclear, biological family. The approved tribe. The only qualifications being a man and woman.
Yet, they demand the laws change to require fertility, morality, endurance and competence tests and research on gay couples. Tests they feel assured gay people do not meet.
Because as all the basic accepted and legally established laws, do not have these requirements and gay adults always met and agreed to the same terms set for op sex couples.
It’s matter of the anti gay changing the goal posts.
What’s also another offensive assertion on their part, is that those who do not conceive children, are otherwise of no value and have no other contributions to make.
Contraceptive sex, or contraceptive people, as they infer, don’t further the species (not that they care, again about the species, just the tribe).
Stigma against the child free is equally irrational. For it’s those who have chosen not to have children or who can’t, that don’t contribute to the need for abortions, or the burden of unwanted, neglected and abused children.
Nor, the population density that threaten the delicate economic, ecological and violence that threatens all mankind.

Tom Scharbach April 30, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Paul Ryan has reversed his position with respect to adoption by gays and lesbians.

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