Wednesday, January 19, 2005

My Thoughts on Gay Adoptions:

James Dobson, in arguing against gay adoptions has said,

"There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and studies in the journals that show that children do best when you have a mother and a father providing role modeling for those kids and who are committed to each other."

Dobson and likeminded folks, when using this data in attempting to demonstrate the child-rearing superiority of heterosexual families to homosexual ones, make an apples to oranges comparison.

The problem: These studies demonstrating the superiority of mother & father households typically compare them to SINGLE PARENT homes, where the children commonly are born to young unwed mothers who do not finish high school.

And no doubt, such births are connected to a whole host of social pathologies, including crime, poverty, and lack of educational achievement.

James Q. Wilson, citing William Galston, demonstrates the connection between out of wedlock births and poverty:

“[Y]ou need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty—finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of the families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.”

And those poor families also have higher rates of violent crime and educational dysfunction as well. These -- and not homosexuals raising children -- are the compared families of Dobson's “hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and studies in the journals that show that children do best when you have a mother and a father….”

But, since there is good reason to believe that gay couples raising children eliminate many of the key problems inherent in single mother households, the studies demonstrating married intact families’ superiority over young-unwed single mother families, in and of themselves, prove nothing against the prospects of children being raised by gay couples.

First, studies demonstrate that if you control for wealth & income, many of the gaps in social pathologies between single-parent homes and married ones shrink. (To be fair, Wilson’s above linked article notes a study by Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur that shows that although controlling for income shrinks the gaps, it doesn’t eliminate them entirely. “The rest of the difference is explained by a mother living without a husband.”)

Given that out-of-wedlock births are such a major cause or contributor to poverty, we might note that that it makes little sense to control for wealth & income (to argue single motherhood is just fine and dandy). It’s like studying smoking’s impact on shortening lifespan but controlling/studying only people who don’t get lung-cancer.

But I think we can all see how an out-of-wedlock birth by a “Murphy Brown” type—where the child will grow up in a 6-figure household, perhaps go to private schools and having his/her own nanny—is not the same as a young unwed urban poor girl having a child. Murphy Brown’s “sin” and its connection to the urban poor is that it made light of a situation, and sent a positive message about a phenomenon that is connected to poverty, crime, and educational failure, even if Ms. Brown’s fictional child, most likely never would face such an environment.

But more importantly, “wealth & income control” is relevant to gay adoption: Some studies already show that gays have higher rates of wealth, income, and education (and the social right loves to trot them out when arguing why gays don’t need anti-discrimination protection). Stereotypical gay neighborhoods, from Dupont Circle, DC, to Provincetown, MA to New Hope, PA, to San Francisco, CA—and on and on—do tend to be affluent, educated, and urbane—the very opposite of places like North Philadelphia, PA, or Camden, NJ—or the many white ghettos like Lowell, MA—where out of wedlock births are the norm. Moreover, adoption procedures very often DO screen (or “control”) for economically stable families.

Therefore, there is good reason to believe that gay adoptors as a class will be economically stable, educated, and middle-class. This is not to say that there will never be any problems that result from two men or two women raising children. But one of the major problems confronting out of wedlock births—urban poverty, and its social environment of high crime and educational dysfunction—is a major concern entirely absent from gay adoptions.

What about those “gaps” that may persist between single parents and intact families, even when controlling for income? Well, evidence shows that those gaps are likely caused by there being only ONE, and not TWO parents present to take on the parental responsibilities.

Therefore, two key problems associated with single parent homes: (1) economic problems and (2) the problems resulting from the lack of a second parent in the home, are not concerns in intact gay households. Gay families may not be ideal—but they are closer to the ideal of two-parent heterosexuals raising children than a typical single mother household.

And any studies used to argue that heterosexual families are superior to homosexual ones MUST be apples to apples comparisons where two-parent gay families are compared to like two-parent heterosexual ones. As far as I am aware, NO such credible studies have been done.

Finally if, as it is being argued, adoption agencies have an obligation to prefer heterosexual couples to homosexual ones, they also should have an obligation to prefer homosexual couples to single parents seeking to adopt.


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