Should Gay and Lesbian Couples Be Allowed to Adopt?

Some studies have shown that more than five hundred thousand children are in foster care and over one hundred thousand of those children are waiting to be adopted. Unfortunately, each year only twenty thousand qualified parents adopt such children. Many of these children are considered “unadoptable” because they are too old, have significant health problems, or are minorities. Frequently, child welfare agencies place these “unwanted” children into foster-care homes, some of which are admittedly substandard. This lack of qualified parents (as well as a lack of competent foster-care workers) makes the situation critical. Many children—perhaps hundreds of thousands—are trapped in a foster-care system that is stretched to its limits: a child in foster care can have lived in as many as twenty foster homes by the time he or she is eighteen. In Florida, a child in the foster-care system was “lost” and never located. In Arkansas, the foster-care system was so inefficient that it was placed under court supervision. Not surprisingly, children in foster care suffer from substance abuse, delinquency, and academic problems to a much greater degree than children raised with their birth parents in two-parent households.

In response to this situation, many states have liberalized their foster-care and adoption policies. In order to find suitable couples, welfare agencies have made the options of adoption and foster care available to a wider range of adults—many of whom would have been ineligible in the past. Now single parents, people with physical disabilities, and poor families can take children into their homes. Many gay and lesbian couples are also attempting to join this group, but they are being met with resistance. Supporters of gay and lesbian rights say that gay parents should be judged by the same standards that heterosexual parents are: if they are stable, loving, and caring, they should be allowed to adopt or serve as foster parents. In other words, a parent’s sexual orientation should not be the sole criterion for denying that person adoption of foster-care rights. Many people—some of them well intentioned—strongly oppose this position. They say that a family should consist of a mother and father who are married to each other. In addition, they say that children need both male and female role models. Finally, they say that gays and lesbians do not have stable relationships, so they would not be good parents. So far, most states do not allow gays and lesbians to adopt or serve as foster parents, but the situation—at least in some states—is changing. The supreme courts of Delaware, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, as well as the lower courts in many other states, have ruled in favor of gay adoption.