Gay and Lesbian Adoption Essay

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Some people see the adoption of children by gay men or lesbians as a threat to the social fabric of society, whereas others view it as an appropriate placement resource for children awaiting an adoptive family. With more than 500,000 children in the nation’s foster care system and 100,000 of them needing adoptive homes, the need for such homes has never been greater. As a result, this debate, which centers on the appropriateness of allowing children to be raised by gay men or lesbians, has received great attention in recent years, although it has been at the forefront of the cultural divide for several decades.

Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Parents

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, many thousands of same-sex couples live with adopted children. However, because data on gay or lesbian single persons who are also parenting adopted children were not also collected, this number is thought to be significantly under-reported, especially when one realizes that most states allowing gay or lesbian persons to adopt only allow single persons to do so. Parental sexual orientation is not systematically collected in the adoption process. As a result, although the actual number of new adoptions of children by gay or lesbian adoptive parents is unknown, best estimates place it at more than several hundred each year from international or domestic, private or public adoption sources.

Many who oppose adoptions by gay or lesbian persons argue that such adoptions are ill-advised at best and destructive at worst. They hold that adoption by gay and lesbian persons holds substantial risks for children. Little research purports to demonstrate these risks, and scholars widely condemn those few as misinterpreting and misrepresenting sociological research. Nonetheless, these studies have been the basis for many debunked myths about gay and lesbian parenting, including, for example, that children of gay parents are at risk for confusion about their sexual identities and more likely to become homosexual, or that their parents are more likely to sexually abuse these children.

Most studies indicate that parental homosexuality does not give rise to gender identity confusion, inappropriate behavior, psychopathology, or homosexual behavior in children. These studies further revealed that children of gay or lesbian parents were virtually indistinguishable from children of heterosexual single or divorced parents. In addition, research consistently notes the lack of a connection between homosexuality and child molestation. Studies point out that the offenders who select underage male victims either always did so or regressed from adult heterosexual relations. Research demonstrates that homosexuality and homosexual pedophilia are not synonymous and are, in fact, almost mutually exclusive. This is because the homosexual male is attracted to fundamentally masculine qualities, which are lacking in the prepubescent male.

The empirical literature on such adoptive family forms consistently illustrates that no significant differences exist between homosexual and heterosexual adoptive parents in their parenting success, or lack thereof. In fact, children appear to develop healthy bonds with their gay or lesbian parent(s).

Adoption Laws

Despite the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychological Association’s list of mental disorders in 1974, Anita Bryant led a “Save Our Children” campaign in 1977 to repeal a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida. The spin-off effect prompted Florida legislators to subsequently pass a law banning adoptions by gay and lesbian persons. The law is still in effect today and is the most restrictive in the nation, the only law specifically denying consideration of an adult as a potential adoptive parent specifically because of his or her sexual orientation.

In general, individual states outline who may and who may not adopt children, with relevant case law also setting the precedent. As such, it is often difficult to determine a particular state’s position because many jurisdictions do not publish adoption decisions. Nevertheless, the laws and policies of four other states (Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Utah) have followed Florida’s lead and currently prohibit or completely restrict gay or lesbian persons from adopting. Other states either allow such adoptions by statute or do not specifically ban them.

Professional and Organizational Policies

For 3 decades the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers have had official policy statements stating that an adoptive parent applicant’s sexual orientation should not be a factor that automatically rules someone out for becoming an adoptive parent. More recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement endorsing not only adoptions by gay men and lesbians but also adoptions by same-sex couples, asserting that children who are born to, or adopted by, one member of a same-sex couple deserve the security of two legally recognized parents. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychoanalytic Association have taken similar positions.

In addition to major professional discipline-focused organizations, other entities have also supported such adoptive placements. The Child Welfare League of America, the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy group, explicitly asserts that lesbians and gay men seeking to adopt shall be judged by the same standards applied to heterosexuals. Also, the North American Council on Adoptable Children adopted a policy that children should not be denied a permanent family because of the sexual orientation of potential parents. Thus, virtually all major professional organizations in the mental health, child health, and child welfare fields take affirmative positions on allowing children to be adopted by gay or lesbian persons or couples.

Although the exact number of adopted children residing with parents who are gay or lesbian is unknown, both sides in this debate agree that many thousands of such family forms exist. To date, not one study of such adoptive families shows any negative outcome for any member of those families. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Nevertheless, this topic continues to polarize many around the concept of parenthood and what characteristics make a “good” parent.


  1. Ryan, Scott, Laura Bedard, and Marc Gertz. 2004. “Florida’s Gay Adoption Ban: What Do Floridians Think?” Journal of Law and Public Policy 15(2):261-83.
  2. Ryan, Scott and S. Cash. 2004. “Adoptive Families Headed by Gay or Lesbian Parents: A Threat…or Hidden Resource?” Journal of Law and Public Policy 15(3):443-66.
  3. Ryan, Scott, Sue Pearlmutter, and Victor Groza. 2004. “Coming out of the Closet: Opening Agencies to Gay Men and Lesbian Adoptive Parents.” Social Work 49(1):85-96.

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