[Note: I am travelling a bit and so will be sporadic. Should have said that earlier, of course. I know I need to get to comments and will do so as I can. Sorry.]
No, not really your average family. Here’s a story (the words “heart-warming” are hard to resist) about a gay male couple–Steven and Roger Ham– with 12 adopted kids–all adopted out of foster care.
It’s one of those stories where you just have to wonder–could anyone say this is a bad thing? Even for those who prize genetic link above all else, that option wasn’t going to work for these kids. There’s no hypothetical here–many of these kids had the experience of being separated from siblings and bounced household to household. Because they were adopted they now have a stable and permanent home.
I know it’s a long story but it illustrates so many points. For instance, because of the laws of Arizona, ten of the kids are legally related to only one of the men. (Two were adopted from Washington State, which did allow them to adopt jointly.)
That leaves ten kids without a host of protections/advantages–like being eligible for social security benefits in the event the parent who is a legal stranger dies or becomes disabled. And that’s after the Hams have taken a number of legal steps to protect the familial relationships established here. (One that is quite striking–Roger changed his last name to “Ham” so that everyone in the family has the same last name.) The article has a tidy summary of the legal problems:
Married couples who adopt children don’t have to take such precautions. With only one legal parent, children in gay households are not entitled to health and Social Security benefits, inheritance rights or child support from the other parent. If a gay couple splits up, only the legal parent has custody rights
And of course, the reason why it they cannot both adopt? Because Arizona won’t allow two men to adopt–after all, they are not a married couple and marriage is best. (Of course, these men would like to be a married couple, but that’s another story.)
It’s also interesting to note the disconnect between the law on a grand and abstract scale (as enacted by the legislature) and the law in operation (as seen by the social workers.) It’s far easier to generalize at the abstract level of legislation. You can just say married different-sex couples make better parents (whether you have evidence to back it up or not).
But on the ground, things aren’t so neat. It might be that some of the parents the kids were born to were married and heterosexual–but they weren’t good parents to these children. (No one would say that all married heterosexual couples make good parents.) This particular unmarried gay couple seem to make great parents. For the social workers, its the individual kids and prospective parents that matter. They do not have the luxury of generalization when they have real children with real needs to see to. And so they have brought 42 kids to the Hams for foster care over the years.
It’s sad to see that Arizona has just enacted a law giving a preference to married heterosexual couples for adoption. It’s not that gay and lesbian couples and single people won’t be foster or adoptive parents in Arizona anymore–they clearly will because no one thinks there are enough married heterosexual couples out there to fill the needs. This being so what the preference amounts to is a public assertion that single parents and same-sex couples are second-rate.
Maybe the legislature thinks this is so, viewing the situation from their lofty perch. Maybe it’s all just politics. But from the ground–from the perspective of kids and their families–it’s awfully hard for me to say the Hams are a second rate family.