With New Adoption Bill, Obama Has A Chance To Advance The Debate Over Marriage Equality
May 05, 2011 12:39 pm ET by Carlos Maza
Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced legislation Tuesday that would restrict federal funds for states that allow for discrimination in adoption or foster care placement based on the sexual orientation, marital status, or gender identity. H.R. 1681, known as the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDFA), currently has 39 co-sponsors in the House. The Washington Blade reports that Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) “is expected to introduce companion legislation in the Senate in June.” Thus far however, it appears that President Obama has been unwilling to fully endorse the bill. From the Blade:
During a news conference, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the legislation, known as the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, said he wants the White House to support his bill fully in response to a question from the Washington Blade on what he’d like to see from the administration on the issue.
“I’d like to see the administration support our position more definitively,” Stark said. “I’ve had some troubles often determining where the administration is on issues, and I think it’s time that President Obama steps up to the bar and makes this — supports it wholeheartedly.”
As the Blade's Chris Johnson noted, Obama’s reluctance to fully endorse the ECDFA contrasts sharply with his explicit support for other pro-LGBT efforts, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement that Obama believes that adoption rights should be afforded to all Americans and supports the goals of the legislation, but stopped short of offering an explicit endorsement of Stark’s bill. The lack of outright support is unlike the president’s position on other pro-LGBT initiatives, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
If the Obama administration really is shying away from fully supporting the ECDFA, it is missing an incredible opportunity to advance the debate over same-sex adoption, same-sex parenting, and marriage equality more broadly.
Calling it a “debate” is a bit of a misnomer; The evidence showing that gay and lesbian couples are as capable (if not more capable) of raising healthy and happy children as heterosexual parents is clear and overwhelming. A literature review done the American Psychological Association in 2005 concluded that there is “no empirical foundation” for the claim that gay and lesbian couples make unfit parents. A 2010 study conducted by researchers at USC and NYU confirmed these findings, determining that a parent’s sexual orientation and gender have no effect on a child’s well-being.
Indeed, right-wing zealots like Tony Perkins and Maggie Gallagher consistently distort and misrepresent social science research in order to make up for the lack of evidence to support their anti-gay positions.
More importantly, the issue of same-sex parenting lies at the heart of the debate over marriage equality. Anti-gay advocates consistently justify their opposition to marriage equality by asserting that gay and lesbian parents can’t provide children with “optimal” environments for their development:
[I]t is the powerful dynamic of a mother, father, and children that creates those bonds of family that form the bedrock of all societies and provide the best environment for raising children—as social science has clearly demonstrated. Children need both a mom and a dad, not just two adults. These are compelling, scientific reasons to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. They expose the arguments of same-sex advocates as self-serving talking points with no basis in human nature and American history. [U.S. News & World Report, 3/14/11, emphasis added]
Rick Santorum, potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate:
Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that’s what? Children. [USA Today, 4/23/03]
Maggie Gallagher, chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage:
Marriage is our most basic social institution for protecting children. Same-sex marriage amounts to a vast social experiment on children. Rewriting the basic rules of marriage puts all children, not just the children in unisex unions, at risk. [Townhall.com, 1/8/04]
The relationship between marriage equality and same-sex parenting can be seen most clearly in the original House report on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Child-rearing was singled out as one of the primary government interests in defining marriage between one man and one woman:
At bottom, civil society has an interest in maintaining and protecting the institution of heterosexual marriage because it has a deep and abiding interest in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing. Simply put, government has an interest in marriage because it has an interest in children.
[F]rom this nexus between marriage and children springs the true source of society’s interest in safeguarding the institution of marriage:
Simply defined, marriage is a relationship within which the community socially approves and encourages sexual intercourse and the birth of children. It is society’s way of signaling to would-be parents that their long-term relationship is socially important—a public concern, not simply a private affair.50
That, then, is why we have marriage laws. Were it not for the possibility of begetting children inherent in heterosexual unions, society would have no particular interest in encouraging citizens to come together in a committed relationship. But because America, like nearly every known human society, is concerned about its children, our government has a special obligation to ensure that we preserve and protect the institution of marriage. [104th Congress’s Report on H.R. 3396, The Defense of Marriage Act, 7/9/96, emphasis added]
Same-sex parenting and marriage equality are inextricably linked. Without the claim that gay and lesbian parents are unfit to raise children, anti-gay advocates are left with very little to justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry. Rather than tepidly expressing his support for same-sex adoption rights, Obama should be leading the effort to reshape the national discourse surrounding gay and lesbian parents and their children.