Gay Marriage and Gay Adoption

When I came across this article, I had two responses:

1. A number of traditional marriage supporters in America are going to try to imitate learn whatever they can from what has been happening in France with regard to the opposition to gay marriage from the LGBT community. In France, marriage is being acknowledged as a unique institution and not merely the ultimate expression or validation of mutual affection. Good for them.

2. The apparent tension that the author points out between supporting traditional marriage and supporting gay adoption is something that I’m going to have to deal with, and that’s the purpose of this post. It seems inconsistent to assert on one hand that one of the essential social functions of marriage as a relationship exclusive to one man and one woman is its role in the creation and raising of children, and then to say that it’s just fine for same-sex couples to raise children.

I can’t speak for Paul Ryan, but I can speak for myself, and I’d like to think that my thoughts on this issue are close enough to those of some other friends with whom I’ve discussed this issue that my ruminations may be helpful for others as well.

My immediate reaction is to point out that, when my friends and I have discussed gay adoption (it’s possible Paul Ryan fits into this same mold), we don’t mean the same thing as what the primary advocates of the policy intend.

That is, when I speak of adoption by same-sex couples (gay adoption is a convenient shorthand which I hope no one will hold against me), I mean that, in an instance where a child needs a home, it is conceivable that two persons of the same sex might in fact be well-qualified to take care of that child. It is not a way for same-sex couples to have kids, but a potential way for children to find stable homes. A baby cannot be reduced to a capstone for a loving relationship: a baby is a unique human being, with all the dignity which that entails.

Any concession I make with respect to adoption by same-sex couples is predicated on the counter-cultural assumption that a child is not a commodity, for either heterosexual or homosexual couples. Children are to be accepted, not bought and sold through in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, or any other such methods. That is, there is no right to have children, but children do have rights. The attitude of a couple looking to adopt (regardless of composition) cannot be primarily “that is how they have kids, and this is how we have kids,” but rather, “if there is a child that needs our help, we will not turn him or her away.”

If we approach the issue of adoption by same-sex couples with the presupposition that any family structure that presents itself to an adoption agency does so not merely out of the desire to validate their love through offspring, but out of the acknowledgment that there may be a child out there for whom they could reasonably take responsibility, there is no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from consideration.

The Catholic experience includes knowledge of the orphanage system, which was for generations upon generations managed by religious orders. It is not as if we as Catholics can deny that communities of same-sex individuals are capable of competently raising children; a monastery may not be preferable to a functioning, intact biological family (I’ll leave that question to sociologists and child psychologists), but it is clear that it can nonetheless serve that purpose when called upon.

However, it seems unlikely, under this paradigm, that a child will be entrusted to a same-sex couple except in cases when no suitable heterosexual couple can be found. To the extent that gay marriage advocates want an absolutely equal institution (even if the name “marriage” is reserved), I’m not sure either Paul Ryan’s position or my own can give any more ground. This allowance for adoption by same-sex couples is a theoretical concession based on attitudes that are far from mainstream: my statements in discussions regarding adoption by same-sex couples don’t actually give as much ground as it may seem at first. I’m not sure whether that is comforting because Paul Ryan and I can both still be orthodox in the context of our statements on gay adoption or discomforting because it means that my theoretical support of adoption by same-sex couples (or, rather, communities) may be an empty promise and failed compromise.

In all this uncertainty, though, I find myself intrigued by the possibility that the counter-cultural attitude which I described above and which is conspicuous by its absence in modern society might be adequately summarized in the word “chastity.” We’ll see whether I can turn that into a coherent blog post in the coming days (if it turns into weeks again, feel free to start pestering me about it).

Postscript:

Further research has revealed that, in his original speech, Paul Ryan said,

I do believe that if there are children who are orphans who do not have a loving person or couple I think if a person wants to love and raise a child they ought to be able to do that.

Emphasis added. This could be chalked up to what happens when someone speaks without prepared notes, but it might also illustrate exactly the attitude I criticized above. If there is such a thing as a right to adopt, it comes out of the obligation to care for children in need. Being open to life is neither demanding things of it, nor refusing the moral obligations with which we are individually confronted. A couple has no more right to demand a child than I have the right to demand out of the blue that any given person start treating me as a close confidant. However, that couple, if they have adequate means, have no more excuse to turn that child away than I do to refuse to help someone who comes to me in real need.

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