The Texas legislature is considering a bill that would empower adoption agencies to act like adoption agencies rather than be pressed into service as soldiers in the culture wars. That this is controversial is instructive if dismaying.
The bill in question would legally protect the right of adoption agencies to decline to facilitate adoptions to which they object on religious grounds. Theoretically, that would empower a Baptist-affiliated adoption agency to refuse to place a child in a Muslim home, but that is not what this is about. What this is about is forcing Catholic institutions to place children with homosexual couples. With all due respect to the Baptists and apologies for my parochialism, the world will not be watching with bated breath when Steve Gaines’s replacement is chosen, but the more deeply people hate what the pope stands for, the more they care who he is and what he does and what his congregation does. As in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, in which the Obama administration tried to coerce a community of elderly celibates into purchasing birth control, it is important to the Left’s culture warriors that the general public, and Christian institutions in particular, be forced to participate in gay weddings (bake that cake or go to jail!) and abortion (by funding it), because it is more difficult to be an effective critic once one is implicated in that which one opposes. The spirit of Antiochus is alive and well and living in Austin.
The question of how we should feel about discrimination against homosexual couples in the matter of child-rearing may be complicated, but we need not work through that here. We can in fact simply answer this question radically and immediately by answering a relatively straightforward question: Who is adoption for?
Adoption is an honorable way to satisfy the paternal and maternal longings of people who for whatever reason cannot or do not have children of their own. But that happy fact is incidental. We have adoption because there are in this fallen world children whose parents are resolved to forgo caring for them. These abandoned children are the very least among us, and it is natural and necessary that our thinking in these matters be organized around their interests. The interests of adoptive parents and would-be adoptive parents are secondary to the interests of the children.
There are in any given year about 1.2 million married couples in the United States who would like to adopt a child. But there are only about 14,000 children a year whose parents voluntarily relinquish their parental rights and make them available for adoption. (There are children whose parents lose their rights involuntarily, too, but they go disproportionately into the custody of their extended families or into temporary foster care.) It used to be more common for young mothers to offer their newborns for adoption, but in 1973 we set upon a savage national course of massacring our unwanted children, so there are proportionally fewer of them available to adopt.
Would-be adoptive parents go to the ends of the earth to adopt children, from Lima to Vladivostok. There are many barriers to adoption, from counterproductive legal arrangements to bureaucracy to the appalling racism of American social workers, who quietly and illegally resist trans-racial adoptions. The barriers do not include a shortage of willing adoptive families.
Using public funds to help care for homeless children ought to be one of the least controversial things government does.
Catholic adoption agencies used to be the dominant player in that market, and, historically, they have not discriminated on sectarian grounds. (Not very much, anyway: The Catholic adoption agent who visited my parents’ household was excited to see a gold-leafed bas-relief pieta on the wall and disappointed to learn that the people who became my parents were just Methodists with a taste for kitsch. She did not hold it against them.) But they do have standards, some of which are rooted in Catholic moral thinking. They are no more inclined to place children in the care of homosexual couples than they are to place them in the care of polygamists. The children are no worse off for this; indeed, the Catholic agencies could probably stand to be a little sterner and more demanding.
Some of these agencies receive some public funds, which, again, need not necessarily complicate the question: Using public funds to help care for homeless children ought to be one of the least controversial things government does. It is only when we put the children in second place that the tangential issues come to the front. And, even then, this may soon be a moot point: More than half of all adoptions today are “private placements,” a kind of grey-market adoption in which lawyers act as intermediaries between adoptive mothers and the couples who are technically prohibited from paying the women for their children but who are permitted and encouraged to provide superabundant assistance with various expenses.
The choice is not between placing children with homosexual couples or sentencing them to long-term institutional care. The choice is between allowing the system we have to work or subordinating it to a particularly stupid form of sentimental politics that gets backward what adoption is all about.