I just got hold of the ACLU’s updated second edition of Too High A Price: The Case Against Restricting Gay Parenting. As the idea that gays can parent as well as anybody else moves from radical notion to common sense in America, years behind most European countries, Canada, South Africa and elsewhere, and as the statistics flow in on the success of gay families, it’s good to have at hand the actual research done on this heartening story of increased hope for America’s throw-away children.
Here are some numbers to start with.
In the United States of America, there are 523,085 kids in foster care. 118,761 of these are waiting for adoption. Stories of families waiting months, even years, for a child to adopt give a skewed perspective on the whole picture. Thousands of children are born to prostitutes and drug addicts who die or abandon them, and many of these kids – if they don’t die in the first couple of years of their life – develop serious health or psychological problems that make most people avoid them like the plague.
These kids are not the whole story, by any means, but keep them in mind when you see the numbers who live their lives out as foster children and never make it off the welfare list as a taxpayer burden into a family they can call their own. It’s a complex and heart-breaking picture. About 21,000 children reached 18 in 2003 having spent their whole lives in foster care – never having been picked up, in other words, by a family that wanted to adopt them. Within two years of “aging out” of the system, “only 54% had completed high school, fewer than half were employed, 60% of the young women had given birth to a child, 25% had been homeless and 30% were receiving public assistance.” (Too High A Price, p. 78)
Given what ought to be an overwhelming consensus on getting little lost souls into families, you’d think the richest nation on earth would find a way to make this happen. It is, actually. There are lots of hard-working caring people in welfare agencies busting their bones to find homes for kids, and lots and lots of success stories.
No thanks, of course, to the boys down at the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition who cite the bogus research of the professional gay-hater Paul Cameron (google him for a study in absurdity). Except for the fact that they have the ear of politicians and are able to sway folk with little or no knowledge of how research is conducted and peer-reviewed, they would be laughed out of town. Politics being what it is, however, gays and others who understand the role gays are increasingly playing in building strong families with children, have to take an inordinate amount of time responding to their false claims.
Since the political right in America started calling these folks part of their base, and have made pandering to their religious biases a fact of life, access by needy children to the pool of loving parents has been significantly slowed down. Both the Catholic Church and evangelicals have found reason to poison the well and put gays on the defensive.
So be it. Call it part of the long slow climb out of a very dark place. Too High a Price has removed the doubts at least of those open to empirically based critical studies.
Twenty-five studies have been conducted in the past couple of decades since gays first started adopting kids in significant numbers, and the results are unequivocal. There is no evidence whatever that gays do worse than others. In fact, children of gays often appear better adjusted than their peers with mixed sex parents. Some differences occur (and this is where the religious conservatives have trouble with the data, and claim kids suffer from “identity problems”) in that these kids are less likely to think of men as non-emotional breadwinners and women as subservient homemakers than kids on the average. The “problems” turn out to be a function of what constitutes cultural values.
Professionals in mental health and child rearing, in fact, worry less, if at all, about girls who want to become bank presidents, and more about self-esteem, social skills, and an ability to love and accept responsibility. And in that area, kids of gay parents do as well as anybody else. There are no exceptions to this in all of the studies available for analysis. Furthermore, these conclusions are supported by the following professional organizations:
• the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), the oldest and largest membership organization of its kind
• the American Academy of Pediatrics, (AAP), and organization of 60,000 pediatricians
• the American Medical Association, the nation’s chief organization of medical professionals
• the American Psychiatric Association, with 35,000 member physicians
• the American Psychological Association, a group whose 150,000 members publish Developmental Psychology
• the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
• The National Association of Social Workers
• the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
• the American Academy of Family Physicians, an organization of 94,000 family physicians
• the Society for Research in Child Development, an organization whose 5000 members publish the journal Child Development.
One organization, the American College of Pediatricians, it should be noted, split off from the American Academy of Pediatrics when it published its policy of supporting gay families. Their 60 members formed their own organization based on “Judeo-Christian traditional values,” and ignore the findings of research that there is no appreciable difference between kids of gays and kids of straights in the areas of:
• the child’s social development
• the child’s cognitive development
• parenting quality
• the quality of parent/child relationships
• the quality of relationships between parents
• the sex identity of children, and
• correspondence in parents’ and children’s sexual orientation.
Besides a slightly more open attitude toward gender roles, it turns out that kids raised by lesbian moms have a slightly greater openness to same-sex relationships. Not a higher degree of lesbianism (these kids, like any others, discover their sexuality; they do not have it thrust upon them), but a more openly expressed willingness to concede there is nothing wrong with them. Once again, a right-wing nightmare, and a progressive’s idea of a positive value.
Listen carefully to the line of reasoning by the religious right when they discuss gay adoptions. You will likely hear the point that “kids raised by single parents do not do as well as kids raised by a mother and a father.” Find out if these people really believe that, if they know the research and are denying it for ideological reasons. There are two terrible injustices in this false conclusion. The first is the assumption that gays are always single and straights are always in couples. In fact, it is only because the law fails to recognize gay couples in many instances that they appear to be single. Children being taken into same-sex couples’ homes are as much wanted children as can be found. As for the single parent bugaboo, anybody who looks at differences among single parents will see it is the resources the parent brings to bear on childrearing, and not the fact of single parenting, that makes all the difference. Kids raised by single parents where one parent has died fare better than kids raised by single parents who are divorced, for example. This is a case where the “average” figures remove the significance from a conclusion entirely.
And all this says nothing about the fact that because of the reality of fluidity in sexuality and because many succumbed to social pressures to live as heterosexuals in the past, thousands of gay parents produced children when they were living with an opposite-sex spouse or partner, a fact quite independent of their parenting skills. Anti-gay rhetoric inevitably ignores the complexity of the full spectrum of social and sexual behavior.
Currently there are somewhere between one and nine million children living in gay families – the huge gap between the low and high estimates stems from the fact it’s often hard to determine what constitutes a “gay parent” anyway. According to the 2000 census, there are 601,209 same-sex partnerships registered. One-third of the female couples have children under 18 living with them and one-fifth of the male couples. A Kaiser study showed 49% of gay-identified people expressed a desire to parent, and there are gay and lesbian couples living in 96% of all U.S. counties.
Despite this overpowering evidence that gay people want to become parents of kids, do become parents of kids, and do as good a job of it as anybody, the anti-gay prejudice still causes terrible tragedies to occur. Florida, for example, will permit gay people to foster care children, but when those kids become members of a family and form attachments with parents and siblings, the state draws the line and refuses adoption. The film documentary We Are Dad tells the story of Bert, a “throw-away child” born to a crack mother with HIV, whom nobody but his two gay dads would take in, and who later grew out of his HIV status. The result? Since he is no longer HIV he is now eligible for adoption by a “real” family and lives under threat of being ripped out of the only home he knows, away from other kids he knows as brothers and sisters. All because religious ideologues have determined from afar that “a kid needs a mother and a father.”
An interesting side note here… Bert is black, and older black kids are the hardest to adopt. Anti-black phobia may save him in this case. Each year he gets closer to eighteen, his chances of living out his childhood in the family he has come to love increase.
Florida is the only state which expressly prohibits gays from adopting, but others keep trying. Florida’s anti-gay law dates back to 1977 when Anita Bryant launched her campaign of fear on the lie that gays are child-molesters. “They can’t reproduce, so they have to convert,” the line went. Anita Bryant later changed her mind and admitted she was uninformed, but the law remains on the books. Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have all tried to come up with a similar law, but have failed.
The good news is that the move is in the other direction. California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey and New York all have specifically anti-anti-gay laws regarding adoption, and Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont and D.C. all permit partners of gays to adopt as second parents.
We’re on our way.
Too High a Price is available for free online at:
Also, do yourself a favor and rent three films on gay parenting. You’ll come out with a big smile on your face.
All Aboard Rosie’s Family Cruise
Daddy and Papa
We Are Dad
March 2, 2007