There was big news this week for same-sex couples who want to have kids, especially if they are trying to figure out where to have them. Europe, it seems, is not the place, despite a reputation as the world’s most gay-friendly continent.
On Wednesday, the French daily Le Figaro published an article titled, “Shrinks Warn against Adoption,” referring to a legislative proposal to allow same-sex couples to adopt. Also on Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights heard from the Austrian government that its adoption policies are based on the biological principle that a child has one father and one mother, and that this is to secure the child’s well-being.
Meanwhile, Australia granted gay parents the same rights to paid parental leave as those granted to straight parents. In contrast, same-sex adoption is legal only in part of that country.
In truth, gay parents make some people uncomfortable. This discomfort is at the root of opposition to same-sex marriage. Opponents of marriage equality often argue that reproduction is the main purpose of marriage. As many have pointed out, if the point were to reserve marriage exclusively for couples who can biologically reproduce, the institution would be off limits to the elderly and the infertile, as well as to same-sex couples.
Of course, that’s not the point. The point is to prevent same-sex couples from having children through in vitro fertilization or adoption. In many countries, these options are available only to married couples. France, for example, refused to allow a lesbian to adopt her partner’s biological child whom she had cared for since infancy. The couple were told earlier this year by the European Court of Human Rights that France’s refusal did not constitute discrimination. After all, the court said, straight unmarried couples would also not have been allowed to adopt each other’s children. But a straight couple could have remedied the situation by getting married, a route that is not open to same-sex couples. This was irrelevant to the court.
It is, however, relevant to same-sex couples who wish to be parents, and to the children many of them already have.
In fact, hundreds of thousands of children grow up in same-sex households or with parents who are not straight. In the United States alone, an estimated 2 million LGBTI people are interested in adoption, and one-quarter of same-sex couples are raising children. These children are adversely affected by laws and policies that exclude their de facto guardians from legal protections and privileges that straight parents enjoy. Such protections might include the right to make medical and other crucial decisions, the right to support educational decisions, and the right to bequeath property.
Most opponents of marriage equality, adoption, and parental benefits would object to any implication that their position hurts children — though that is the inevitable consequence. Many of these opponents would say that they are trying to protect children against the “dangers” of growing up with gay parents. The belief that gay parents are not as capable as heterosexual parents of raising well-balanced, healthy, and happy children is a common, and damaging, stereotype. It is constantly contradicted by studies on the well-being of children in same-sex families. Study after study shows that the welfare of children closely correlates with parental support and love, not with the parents’ sexual orientation or gender expression.
In deliberating adoption by same-sex couples, the European Court of Human Rights and the French legislature should focus on children’s rights and dignity. If they do, they will quickly conclude that children deserve parents who love and care for them. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with a parent’s capacity to do just that.