In his dissenting opinion in the sodomy case of Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Today’s opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has apparently taken these words to heart and has announced his support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. For the moment, however, I think Frist’s priorities are misplaced. The first response to the Supreme Court ruling should not be to take on gay marriage, but gay adoption. Surely we should not dismiss concerns over redefining marriage. The push for equality in marriage rights will probably lead to a push for equality of child-rearing rights. Nevertheless, at least gay marriage involves consenting adults. Gay adoption, however, involves the care of children.
Before I go any further, I need to clarify some of my positions. First, although I am opposed to gay adoption, I would make a few exceptions as I explain below. Second, while I think the SCOTUS decision was wrong on states’ rights grounds and will open up a new flurry of judicial activism, I think the morality of the decision was correct. The government should not be in the business of regulating sex acts between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. Furthermore, I do not think that there is anything intrinsic about homosexuality that renders gays and lesbians bad parents. Most of the gays and lesbians I’ve known would probably make very good parents, certainly on par with heterosexuals.
My objection to gay marriage is that it represents a major change in family structure. It means, quite simply, that families will again expand beyond the traditional structure in which a family is headed by a man and a woman, to now include families being headed by two men or two women. This is potentially harmful for the children involved in gay adoption. There is the very real possibility that such children will develop emotional problems, sexual-identity confusion, and depression. Again, this is not because gays and lesbians are naturally bad parents. It is due to the fact that children are unlikely to adjust as well to being raised by same-sex couples as opposed to heterosexual ones.
Thus far, the evidence on gay adoption is inconclusive. As Robert Lerner noted in his book No Basis: What the Studies Don’t Tell Us About Same Sex Parenting, most studies on same sex parenting do not deal with actual gay adoption but rather the natural children of one same-sex partner, or children who are the result of artificial insemination. The studies are also riddled with other flaws including failure to use control groups, lack of control variables, and unrepresentative and insufficiently large samples. One might reasonably argue that this means we should wait until more scientifically sound studies are completed before our society makes any decision regarding gay adoption. Yet by the time such studies are completed, gay adoption could be firmly entrenched in our society, making it very difficult to stop.
Indeed, there is no reason to wait for such studies. We already have an example, along with mountains of sound research, of what happens when our society significantly alters family structure. I am referring, of course, to the rise in the number of single-parent families in the last three decades. As Barbara Dafoe Whitehead shows in her book The Divorce Culture, as America liberalized its divorce laws and loosened its taboo against divorce in the late 1960s, many child-welfare professionals argued that “the happiness of individual parents, rather than an intact marriage, was the key determinant of children’s family well-being.” It would then follow that if divorce made the parents happier, the children would be happier too. In the years since, however, that theory has dashed itself against reality. Many studies have shown that children of divorce suffer higher rates of depression, behavioral problems, learning and developmental problems, and economic insecurity. Divorce also tends to damage their ability to forge attachments of their own, both in family and at work. It is indisputable that the dramatic change in family structure, from having both parents in the home to having only one, has done tremendous harm to the children of this country.
It is possible that the children involved in gay adoption would suffer no noticeable long-term negative effects. But it is not worth the risk. Given what we know about the results of one major change in family structure, our society should be, at the very least, reluctant to tolerate another one. The experience of single-parent families demonstrates that children are generally much better off in a household headed by a man and a woman. Since gay adoption deviates from that, it should be banned.
The exceptions I would make to a ban on gay adoption would involve instances when gay adoption is the more humane alternative. Such exceptions would include adopting a child from foster care, a child from an abusive family, or an orphaned child. For all its likely shortcomings in family-structure, a gay adoption would undoubtedly provide a far more stable environment than those alternatives.
Aside from that, more states should impose greater restrictions on gay adoption. And if an activist court later deems that they do not pass constitutional muster, then we should pass a constitutional amendment banning it.
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