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LGBTQ Adoption Rights: Battles Won, But the Fight Continues


In 2016, gay adoption became legal in all 50 states after a federal judge ruled that Mississippi’s ban on same-sex couples adopting children was unconstitutional. In his decision, the judge cited the pivotal Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide the year before.

It was a major victory for the LGBTQ community. A spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) hailed the decision at the time, stating:

“Judge Jordan has repudiated reprehensible efforts by our elected leaders to deny legal rights to our families. They are on the wrong side of history, and today’s decision confirms, yet again, that they are also on the wrong side of the law.”

Before the Mississippi ruling, adoption laws varied by state. Some states granted full adoption rights to same-sex couples, while others banned it or placed restrictions on which partner could adopt.

Despite the rulings legalizing gay marriage and adoption, LGBTQ people and same-sex couples still face discrimination when attempting to adopt or become foster parents.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, child welfare agents in many states are still allowed to refuse to place foster children with LGBTQ people and same-sex couples—if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs.

And, in recent years, states have ramped up efforts to pass bills protecting the right of religious groups to deny adoption services and fostering to LGBTQ families.

Even though the public has become significantly more supportive of gay marriage and same-sex parenting in the last two decades, half of Americans still believe it’s acceptable for adoption agencies to deny services to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

The Conservative Fight for “Traditional Family Values”

Conservatives have long preached against the alleged harms of LGBTQ parenting—clutching their pearls over the loss of the “traditional family.”

Although Republican support for gay marriage has risen in the last two decades, they have been the slowest to catch up with the rest of the country.

Rick Santorum has been one of the most steadfast opponents of gay marriage and LGBTQ parents, once comparing same-sex marriage to 9/11. In 2012, he told a New Hampshire audience that children are better off with a father in prison than being raised by lesbian parents.

The Trump Administration did its part to make life harder for LGBTQ people. In 2019, Mike Pence praised a proposed Trump administration rule that would allow federal funding to go to adoption agencies that refuse to place children with LGBTQ families.

On the whole, conservatives still cling to the notion that same-sex parenting is an assault on “traditional values,” and they continue to wage war on prospective parents who are LGBTQ.

Do LGBTQ People Make Better Parents?

And yet, research shows that LGBTQ people not only make fine parents, but they may bring certain talents to parenting their hetero counterparts don’t.

While “better” is subjective, there are reasons gay parents may in fact do better in some ways than straight parents, according to experts.

Research has shown that gay parents tend to be more motivated and more committed than heterosexual parents, on average. By and large, this is because they become parents by choice at much higher rates. While the accidental pregnancy rate among heterosexuals hovers around 50%, gay parents rarely become parents by accident.

On average, gay parents are more committed and more involved in their kids’ lives.

Research also indicates that kids have the advantage of open-mindedness, tolerance, and role models for equitable relationships in gay parents.

Gay People Are More Likely to Adopt Children

Gay and lesbian people are more likely to adopt or foster children, according to the United States Census Bureau. In 2019, 4 out of 10 children of same-sex couples were either adopted or stepchildren.

This squares with a report from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, which found that one in five (20%) same-sex couples raising children in the U.S. are raising adopted or foster children. This is significantly higher than the 3% of heterosexual couples doing so.

“Our findings highlight the importance of laws and policies that encourage and support adoption and fostering by same-sex couples,” wrote the lead author of the report, Shoshana Goldberg. “Without these policies, a qualified population of prospective parents may not have equal access to government-funded child welfare agencies and services.”

Same-sex couples are also more likely to adopt the neediest kids. A 2011 report found that 10% of kids placed with gay and lesbian couples were older than age 6—a very difficult age to adopt out.

And 60% of gay and lesbian couples adopted across races. This is significant, because Black children are overrepresented in the foster care system compared to their numbers in the general population.

There’s also evidence that prospective parents who are LGBTQ are especially accepting of open adoptions, where the child retains some contact with his or her birth parents.

Nurturing Tolerance and Acceptance
Nurturing Tolerance and Acceptance

Nurturing Tolerance and Acceptance

Research indicates that kids of gay parents show few differences in achievement, mental health, and social functioning (although a Netherlands study found that children raised by same-sex parents had higher test scores and were more likely to graduate than children raised by different-sex couples).

Yet, children of same-sex parents may have a particular advantage when it comes to tolerance and open-mindedness.

In a 2007 study of 46 adults with at least one gay parent, 28 of the participants said that they felt more open-minded and empathetic than people not raised in their situation. These participants spontaneously offered this information, with at least one person saying he felt more well-rounded for having been raised in a non-traditional family.

The study also found that children of gay parents felt less hung up on gender stereotypes—likely because gay and lesbian parents tend to have more egalitarian relationships than straight couples, said the lead researcher.

Societal Attitudes Toward LGBTQ Parents

Society’s attitudes about same-sex parenting may be the real issue for kids growing up in LGBTQ homes.

When the community and society at large don’t recognize families with gay parents as legitimate or authentic, it puts children with same-sex parents at a disadvantage.

The way our culture views same-sex parenting affects whether children in these families view themselves as accepted members of society or as outsiders.

More than 120,000 kids in foster care are awaiting adoption in the U.S., according to the most recent data available. There is robust research showing that LGBTQ parents provide the same essential love, support, and protection as their heterosexual counterparts.

No child should be denied the chance to join a stable, loving family. You can make a difference by advocating for adoption rights for LGBTQ families.

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