When it comes to gay right’s issues, marriage has long been at the forefront. But for some couples, their main concern has been a very different fight—the ability to adopt. Adopting as a queer person has been historically difficult or impossible in some parts of the US. Adopting as a gay couple even more so, as until recently many states did not provide second parent adoption without jumping through a lot of hoops. But it’s surprising that adoption has taken so much longer to come about than gay marriage. In addition to there being no justifiable reason to keep LGBTQ couples from adopting, adoption has also been found to have more public support than same sex marriage. In fact, in a 2014 Gallup poll, 63 percent of those surveyed said they supported allowing LGBTQ couples to adopt, while only 55 percent supported marriage rights.
And with adopting from abroad being especially difficult for some queer couples—many countries won’t allow it—it is even more important that these rights are enforced at home. But even though adoption rights are, in theory, available to queer couples, the reality is that there are still unique challenges that the queer community faces when it comes to starting a family—especially in certain states.
A Recent Victory
Although gay adoption may seem uncontroversial to many or a natural step after gay marriage was introduced nation-wide, it has actually faced more recent objections than gay marriage has. Though some states protected couple’s rights earlier, it was only in 2016 that same-sex couples won the right to adopt in all states—after the Supreme Court turned over a ban that prohibited gay couples from adoption in Mississippi, calling it unconstitutional. The battle for national gay adoption had been a long one. “Two sets of our clients have waited many (almost 9 and 16) years to become legal parents to the children they have loved and cared for since birth," the lead attorney on the case, Roberta Kaplan, said in a statement. "We hope that it should finally be clear that discrimination against gay people simply because they are gay violates the Constitution in all 50 states, including Mississippi."
And it did, but just changing the law doesn’t change the attitude. “Even if we have a Supreme Court ruling that says all 50 states have to recognize marriage for same-sex couples, we’re still likely going to have implementation issues that will take time, maybe even years, to solve,” Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of public policy at the Family Equality Council, a nonprofit organization devoted to LGBTQ parenting, told the Atlantic. “There are states that are less excited about implementing marriage equality, and there are places where it will be difficult to work with adoption administrators and officials to get them to recognize the rights of parentage that flow from marriage.”
Interestingly, even though Mississippi was the last state willing to grant adoption rights, it now has a larger proportion of gay couples adopting than any other state. But that doesn’t mean that the battle is over.
Issues Still Remain
According to Family Equality, while couples in all 50 states can file for joint adoption, there are only seven states which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In addition, there are seven states where state-licensed child welfare agencies can refuse same-sex couples on the basis of their religious beliefs. That means there are a lot of states where LGBTQ couples do not have adequate protections—and can face impediments when trying to start a family just because of their sexual orientation.
And, as Hecht-McGowan predicted, getting some states on board is proving tricky. Even though the legal right is there, the attitudes are not shifting. Earlier this year, a Family Court judge in Kentucky refused to hear a same-sex adoption case on moral grounds because he believed there were no circumstances in which it was in the best interest of a child to be placed with a “practicing homosexual.” So even though there is a legal right, the prejudices are still clear—even within the government.
And There’s An Underlying Prejudice
Research consistently shows that children raised by same-sex couples are at no risk or disadvantage. In a review of the vast research that has been done, Columbia University said: “Taken together, this research forms an overwhelming scholarly consensus, based on over three decades of peer-reviewed research, that having a gay or lesbian parent does not harm children.” But even the fact that as a society we feel the need to subject same-sex adoption to such rigorous study reveals an underlying bias against homosexual couples.
We say as a society we accept the idea, but still feel the need to check and double check that it’s "OK for the kids." It seems like every month a new study comes out about LGBTQ parents. We study the effects on children’s welfare, the likelihood that they’ll question their sexuality—a hangover from the offensive thinking that you can “catch” being gay or lesbian and, even if you could, that it would be a bad thing to catch. There’s a sense that we can’t fully relax about the idea of gay parents. That we need to keep checking up on them—just in case.
2016 marked a huge legal landmark for adoption in the US, but that doesn’t mean it’s now smooth sailing for queer couples. As long as prejudices—and governmental protections for those prejudices under the guise of religious freedom—continue to exist, queer couples will be in a vulnerable position when trying to start a family. Everyone has a guaranteed right to family life, but we still have to make a leap from legal right to real world experience.