DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT:
HOW ADOPTION POLICY IS
AFFECTED


by
Mary Beth Style, M.S.W.

This speech was presented at a July 2, 1996 Capitol Hill briefing regarding the Defense of Marriage Act. The briefing was sponsored by the Family Research Council.

Whenever there is a discussion of adoption it is generally useful to remind the audience of the purpose of adoption. In the United States, adoption has traditionally been an institution to create families for children when their biological families could not or would not raise them. The law has been very careful to ensure that adoptive families are treated the same, for all intents and purposes, as families who gave birth to their children. In addition, the law also requires that the child be at the center of all adoption policy and practice. Unfortunately, in recent years, some who have attempted to reform adoption laws and policies are not addressing the needs of children, but instead are promoting the cause of adults. Discussions about "right to adopt" are clearly not child-centered, but adult-driven.

Adoption law varies substantially from state to state in matters relative to time frames for taking consents or overturning adoption decrees. But the states are unanimous on one point: an adoption cannot be granted by a judge unless it is proven to be in the best interest of the child. While there may be a difference of opinion about what is in the best interest of a particular child, the law is clear that it is the child that matters, not the adults.

Except for a very few exceptions, adoption law and policy has attempted to stay away from categorizing who can and cannot adopt. The exceptions generally would be limited to prohibiting persons with a history of abuse or crime from adopting. In addition, Florida and New Hampshire prohibited by statute homosexuals from adopting. In virtually every other state, until recently, the law has allowed only married couples or a single individual to adopt. The reason for this policy, which I believe is sound, is that the state believed that adults should make a legal commitment to each other before making the commitment to a child to ensure stability for the child. A true family, which adoption is intended to create, cannot exist if the only legal relationship between the parties exists through the child only.

While it is true that this policy has prevented two homosexuals from adopting a child, it also has prevented unmarried heterosexuals. There have been exceptions to the rule as individual courts have allowed adoptions by unrelated adults to proceed. One of the more celebrated cases is the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow adoptions. Obviously, if states begin to recognize marriage between homosexuals, it will likely become easier for two homosexuals to adopt a child because they will be meeting the marriage requirement.

However, while it is true that a judge must give final approval to an adoption once he or she determines it to be in the best interest of the child, the real decision making generally occurs at an earlier point by the individual or agency making the placement. While few of us would want social service agencies to arbitrarily prevent appropriate people from being able to adopt, I do believe that we must be very careful about suggesting that any individuals or groups should have the right to adopt.

There is no "right" to adopt and to create one would be contrary to the best interests of children because instead of finding the most appropriate family for a child, the state and its agents would have to ensure that adults are allowed to adopt a child. Since a "right" is a guarantee, the state would be required to "guarantee" a child for adoption. The absurdity of that position is obvious. Yet, I am troubled by discussions in recent years by some who are promoting "gay rights" who are proposing that there ought to be a right to adopt.

Instead, decisions about children should be made based on an individual child's needs, taking into account any existing relationships the child may have. We have a growing body of evidence which shows the damage done to children who are raised without fathers. Much of that research emphasizes the differences in parenting styles between mothers and fathers and shows that each is important for the healthy development of children. It is clear that it is not an issue of quantity when it comes to parenting. A child who is raised by his mother and grandmother, may have tow parents for all intents and purposes to share the load, but the absence of a father is still very apparent in his development.

There is no denying that many children raised by single parents and children raise by homosexuals are doing very well. But the child who is raised by a mother and a father has an easier time of it and has the opportunity to experience and model the behaviors of both sexes.

In adoption, it has traditionally been the responsibility of the field and the state to stack the deck in favor of the child. Many policies appear to be unfair to adults, but again adoption is not about adults. For example, many individuals balk at the notion that adopting parents should be in good health arguing that many individuals who give birth have chronic health conditions or that none of us knows when we might be hit by a car.

While both of those arguments are valid, it is the obligation of the social worker or agency to weigh the odds in favor of the child. It is more likely that healthy parents will be around to see a child grow to maturity than a parent with a serious medical condition. So, too, policies which give preference to married heterosexuals stack the deck in favor of the child. While it may be true that in certain cases, where an individual has a relationship with a particular child or has a special gift to match the special needs of a particular child, it is in the best interest of a child to be adopted by a single person, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

But, if we truly are looking at the best interest of the and not concerned about the appearance of being tolerant of adults, we will select whenever possible, a mother and a father for child. Kids do not care about being politically correct. They just want a mommy and a daddy.

***

Mary Beth Style, M.S.W., is the former Vice President for Policy and Practice of the National Council for Adoption. She served for seven years with Catholic Charities USA and has also served as a consultant to the office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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