Politics & Policy

Adopting Numbers

The Census side of the story.

A Census Bureau report on adopted children released August 22 is certain to add fuel to the fiery debate over adoption by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons because it shows that 78 percent of all adopted children live in two-parent, married-couple households. Adoption by married couples is still the norm.

The most comprehensive data on adopted children ever collected has just been published as Adopted Children and Stepchildren: 2000 by the U.S. Census Bureau. The 22-page report by the Census Bureau’s Rose M. Kreider, with six additional pages of supplemental data tables, is sure to stimulate a great deal of discussion, especially in regard to the controversial topic of adoption by unmarried persons who are cohabiting, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) persons.

One of the arguments in favor of continuing to allow GLBT persons — whether living alone or cohabiting — to adopt unrelated children, including children who are languishing in the public foster-care system, is that GLBT persons represent a “last chance” resource for these children. The theory is that if GLBT persons — or for that matter, any unmarried couples — are barred from adopting, then children will needlessly grow up without parents.

To bolster the theory, advocates of GLBT adoption, according to a July 8, 2003, story in the Rocky Mountain News, say that “as many as 14 million children in the United States are being raised by at least one parent who is a homosexual. Many are lesbian couples with children from earlier heterosexual marriages. But more and more gay couples are acquiring their own, through artificial insemination, adoption, and, for some gay men, through a surrogate mother inseminated with their sperm.”

Kreider’s Census Bureau report does not reflect numbers anywhere close to 14 million; rather, the data in Table 6, page 14 of the report show that only 1.8 percent of all adopted children under 18, 28,641 children, were adopted by male householders with an unmarried partner. For female householders, it was also 1.8 percent, with 29,052 children being adopted. Since cohabitation is less common among GLBT couples than heterosexual couples, even the most-generous estimate of GLBT adoptions would fall far short of the extravagant claims made by some GLBT organizations or groups backing GLBT adoption.

The report is careful to note the limitations, statistical and otherwise, in the data from Census. The report does not comment on one of the factors that may have resulted in an over-reporting of adoptions by those living with an unmarried partner as compared to other types of householders. Because GLBT adoption is so controversial and because it is in the interest of those who support GLBT adoption to show that such adoptions have become quite common, there was an effort to encourage GLBT adoptive parents to report their status as adoptive parents. Because only three states presently have any official barriers in place regarding GLBT adoptions — Florida, Mississippi, and Utah — and those are ineffective if GLBT individuals seek to adopt without disclosing that they are cohabiting — the argument cannot be made that some huge, undisclosed number of GLBT persons have adopted.

The report also does not comment on a phenomenon that may have resulted in an underreporting of adoptions by married-couple households. At least some adoptive parents who were concerned about privacy may have declined to disclose the adoptive status of their children.

The Census data for householders who are adoptive parents and who have never been married do not offer much solace to GLBT adoption advocates either. Only 0.7 percent of the children adopted by male householders, 10,529 children, are in that category. For female householders, the numbers and percentages are understandably higher because more single, heterosexual women are adopting — especially those of minority ethnic backgrounds. Some 4.3 percent of adopted children under 18, or 68,722, were adopted by never married female householders.

For the inflated estimates of GLBT adoptions made by GLBT adoption advocates and their supporters to be valid, and for GLBT adoptions to be a major factor in adoptions by U.S. residents, nearly all the adoptions by unmarried persons, whether cohabiting or never married, would have to be by GLBT persons. That seems unlikely.

William L. Pierce was the founding president of the National Council for Adoption, where he served for 20 years. He currently a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, publisher of Adoption/Medical News, and executive director of the USA Committee for the International Association of Voluntary Adoption Agencies and NGOs.

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