Much fuss is being made over Boston’s Catholic Charities’ refusal to place children with same-sex couples in its adoption services. The political agenda behind the garment-rending and name-calling should have more than Catholics up in arms.
Let me start by saying that I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree with the criteria employed by Catholic Charities in its selection process. After all, the Church attempts to find a home that provides not only material comfort, but also a morally and spiritually sound environment according to its own standards and perspective. A living arrangement that the Church considers to be objectively sinful doesn’t qualify as being in children’s best interests. But no one is required to make use of the Catholic agency, and plenty of other options exist for those who disagree.
What I would strenuously resist is an attempt to make religiously inspired or private agencies conform to a one-size-fits-all, state-imposed model of parental selection. The Christian Church has been looking after widows, orphans, and the destitute since long before the U.S. federal government came into existence. Why should a secular model trump other legitimate standards for adoption? Isn’t that, after all, why a variety of adoption agencies came into existence–to provide parents with options that correspond to their values and concerns? In what way does a de facto secular monopoly serve the common good better than a range of adoption alternatives?
Let’s cut through the rhetoric of “discrimination” that only clouds the issue. The simple fact is that all adoption agencies discriminate–that is the purpose of the evaluation of prospective parents. Candidates must run a gruelling gauntlet of tests, interviews, and questionnaires covering everything from their financial situation to their personal histories, education and criminal record. The commonwealth of Massachusetts applies any number of litmus tests to weed out unsuitable candidates. Let’s just take the example of financial discrimination. The poor may not adopt. In order to adopt, couples must not only demonstrate economic solvency, but wealth. I personally know of several loving, married, middle-class couples that have been denied adoption simply because their bank account wasn’t big enough. The question then becomes, not whether agencies should discriminate, but rather, on what grounds they should discriminate.
Catholic Charities believes that same-sex caregivers do not provide an atmosphere that is conducive to the well-rounded rearing of children. Despite all the talk of generic “parenting,” mothers and fathers are not androgynous, interchangeable “parental units.” A mother is not expendable and cannot be replaced by a second father. When she is missing, something essential is lost. To deliberately deprive a child of a mother or a father is to do violence to that child. Moreover, not only are both parents necessary for the unique contribution each provides, they also furnish an example of interaction between the sexes themselves.
There is not enough sound statistical evidence about children raised by single-sex caregivers to determine definitively what long-term effects this arrangement will have. Still, what evidence does exist gives serious cause for concern. Most studies suggest that mothers’ and fathers’ complementary input aids in a child’s psycho-sexual development, and studies show that children raised by single-sex caregivers have a much higher rate of gender dissatisfaction.
Again, none of it (and there’s more) is conclusive, but it does illustrate the reasonableness of the position taken by Catholic Charities. Adoption agencies exist in order to help children, not to subject them to experiments in progressive social engineering whose long-term effects are not certain. Where serious doubt exists, prudence would dictate following the less risky path.
Some have countered that entrusting children to gay couples, while perhaps not the best option, beats the alternatives. There simply are not enough available married couples willing to adopt, and gays fill the gap. Yet this logic is based on two false premises. First, there are long lines of married couples waiting to adopt a child, many of whom spend years navigating the labyrinthine adoption process. Most often, what are lacking are not adoptive parents, but children to adopt. The process can become so frustrating and drawn out that many opt for other alternatives, like adopting a child from a foreign country. Second, where gay adoption is permitted, no special rules apply granting preference to married couples, and children are placed indiscriminately with homosexual couples and heterosexuals. Once again, the determining factor often becomes income, as if a plasma television, MP3 player, and Game Boy were more important for a child than a mother and father.
Finally, the adoption issue has often been mistakenly identified as a question of gay rights. Yet children are not a commodity that all should “have,” and no one has the right to adopt. Children do, however, have the right to a mother and a father. Adoption is not about filling an emotional void in adults’ lives, but offering a stable home to unfortunate children. When political agendas prevail over the best interests of children, sloppy moral reasoning is sure to follow.
Adoption reform is long overdue, and much bureaucratic dead wood needs to be hewn out of the adoption process. Yet this reform must be carried out in a way that favors the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of children. If Catholic Charities chooses to raise the bar a little higher, they should be congratulated rather than vilified.
–Father Thomas D. Williams, LC, is dean of the theology school at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University where he teaches Catholic Social Doctrine, and is a Vatican analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.