Last week Mexico City took progressive action, legalizing same sex marriage and adoption. Our southern neighbor’s controversial ruling is giving new fuel to both sides in the debate over same-sex rights in the U.S. In many states, same-sex marriage advocates hit a roadblock in changing the rhetoric that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This issue, it turns out, is much more serious than a quick edit that would allow a union between two women or two men to also be called a marriage. And while initially the law did not put limitations on the right to adopt, as other gay rights issues such as marriage started to spark controversy, the right to adopt was also called into question.
The issue of gay marriage is understandably a huge issue among those waiting for that right and the people who support them. The enormity of this issue is considered by many one of the most important civil rights issues of our time. For this issue to be resolved, legislation needs to be put through (and has been put through in 5 states, with New Hampshire and the District of Columbia on track to follow suit in Jan. 2010) to change the language in our laws.
Adoption, for the most part, is a right that nearly everyone possessed by law. Unlike the issue of gay marriage, which is a right many states have yet to grant (except for in the case of California, Arizona, and Florida, where the constitutions have been changed in order to exclude gay marriage), adoption by same sex couples or single gay people is a right that is being taken away. To regulate the rights of individuals seems to encroach on sacred ground when it comes to the U.S. Constitution, which states in the 14th Amendment that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Infringing on one’s rights to marry as well as to adopt has implications that could jeopardize the Constitution in this aspect and others, and the issue of adoption in particular seems to already have been used in contradiction with the Constitution. Many opponents to same-sex marriage argue that same-sex couples should have the right to have a civil union, but should not call it marriage. The problem with this discrepancy is that giving individuals different rights in any regard could result in more rights being taken away, in an effort to achieve equality for all in different ways. The last time I checked, “separate but equal” was overturned in the 1950’s; yet today, equal rights is still a topic of debate. The issue of adoption is not a matter of having equal but different rights, like marriage; it is a difference between those who can and those who can’t.
Among rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens is the right to have a child. A natural right, no doubt, without limitations. In the U.S., the state does not have the right to choose who can and cannot give birth. Although child abuse and neglect are certainly present in our country, the state does not have the right to deem someone unfit to bear children. Since this is the case, is it fair to limit one’s right to adopt? Certainly there is a necessary screening process for prospective adoptive parents. The adoptive family must prove they can provide a safe and stable environment for a child; it would of course make sense to ensure that children coming from unstable and unsafe environments are indeed going to see their situations improve. But to make a distinction between certain groups of people and their right to adopt and care for children is a violation of the 14th Amendment.
If the law as defined by the U.S. Constitution appears to defend gay adoption, the foster care crisis may just seal the deal. Every year between 2002 and 2008 there were over 748,000 U.S. children in the foster care system. Over 123,000 children per year were waiting to be adopted, and only about 50,000 per year found an adoptive family. Every year over 20,000 children age out of the foster care system and are left with the responsibility of finding shelter, healthcare, and education. 46% will not graduate from high school and 98% will not go to college. Many of these young people, unprepared for their independence, will resort to criminal behavior. In a nation with so many children left uncared for, it seems counterproductive to decrease the number of adults who are eligible to adopt.
In 2008, Arkansas passed Act 1, which prohibits single people, gay and straight, from adopting or serving as foster parents. Many gay rights advocates feel this ruling targets gays in particular, since lawmakers attempted to pass a law that prohibited gays and lesbians from adopting two years prior, but such a proposal was ruled discriminatory by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Act 1 passed in Arkansas with 57% of the vote, and it is not the only state to prohibit gay adoption in some form. Many states will allow single but not joint adoption by gays and lesbians. Florida is the only state that exclusively outlaws adoption in any form by gays and lesbians.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia assert that sexual orientation cannot be grounds to deny anyone the right to adopt, and while opposition continues to gain steam, there are signs that supporters of gay singles and couples in their pursuit to adopt have a fighting chance. Florida’s leading democratic candidate for the 2010 governor race, Alex Sink, supports any adoption that serves the best interest of the child, and has committed to working with FL state senator, Nan Rich, who has been working to repeal the adoption ban on gays and lesbians. Sink has been raising funds at two times the rate of the republican candidate, Bill McCollum. On a national level, Congressman Pete Stark of California has introduced a bill to congress that would outlaw any legislation that puts limitations on adoption due to sexual orientation or marital status.
The issue of gay adoption comes down to people’s core values, and these values cannot be swayed easily. As is often the case, the deciding factor could be those who sit at the sidelines. A serious look at the proposals and the candidates at hand, combined with more voters at the polls, is sure to have an effect on outcomes. Gay marriage is an issue on the forefront for gay rights advocates, reaching the homes of many through media coverage of protests and rallies; the issue of gay adoption has the potential to reach just as many if advocates for gay rights commit to making gay adoption a visible issue. While activists, lawmakers, and voters scramble to pass the bill that best represents their ideals, hundreds of thousands of American children await their decisions. Every year tens of thousands reach the age of 18 and miss out on the right to have a family. As they lose this right it is ironic that they gain another, one of the most powerful allowed to any U.S. citizen, and one that can effectively change the future for many like them – the right to vote.