The 2012 election promises to be an intensely contested one, but one constituency seems guaranteed to vote for Barack Obama in large numbers: The LGBTQ community, especially given his endorsement of gay marriage.
Even Republicans are coming out in support of gay marriage. Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer, described as “one of the Republican Party’s most important money men,” has donated over $2 million to gay marriage advocacy groups. Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, pointed out, “The strong support that we’re getting from members of both parties indicates that this has become a mainstream American cause.”1
But acceptance in mainstream America comes with costs. In the case of gay marriage, the selling point has been a promise that our families will not deviate from the norm and that gay marriages will echo mainstream marital values, even though the style and substance (and popularity) of marriage have shifted dramatically in the last few decades.
Gay marriage advocates assert that this strategy was forced upon them. When it comes to gay issues, the Right resurrects scare tactics: gays and lesbians are unfit parents, marriage is only between a man and a woman, and gays and lesbians prey upon innocent children.
Faced with such rhetoric, the gay community spins counter-narratives. One pro-gay-family advertisement declares that, “Two gay dads are better than NONE” (the phrase is also the name of a gay blog).2 We are reminded that gay parents adopt unwanted foster children, like Black/multi-racial children or children with disabilities. In a sign of the changing times, the Obama administration has noted approvingly that gays and lesbians can help with the larger number of children who supposedly need to be adopted or fostered—it has increased its efforts to recruit LGBT parents to become foster care parents, and through its Adopt Us Kids program seeks to find adoptive homes—including those with LGBTQ parents—for “hard to place kids.”3
Obama emphasized the kind of families he meant while supporting gay marriage, those “… who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together.”4
But those of us who want a world where people are both protected from harm and able to live their lives as they see fit should not be heartened by these words.
In her book, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, Dorothy Roberts reveals how child protective services and the welfare system tear Black children away from their families, particularly from those headed by single women. Using case studies based in my city of Chicago, Roberts’ book shows how the foster care system funnels children away from Black communities.5
I think of Roberts’ work often as I watch campaigns and PSAs about the benefits of gay adoption.6 I cringe when I read media accounts of how gay parents found their children, and at the dehumanizing and congratulatory tone so present in narratives about “trans-racial adoptions,” particularly those that occur when the mother is “troubled.”7
We hear about the difficulties encountered with supposedly obdurate women who change their minds about giving up their babies—the “problem” presented here is that experienced by the adoptive parents. This one-sided problem excludes discussion of the fact that, perhaps, the decision is emotionally wrenching for the women. There is also, of course, no sense of the larger systemic ways in which we have failed to provide a support system for single women, and particularly poor women of color, so that it becomes impossible to be able to raise a child on one’s own. Even though three-quarters of single mothers work, the majority of them are employed in low-paying retail or service industries, with few benefits and taxing schedules. In addition, the United States is the only top-tier industrialized nation which does not guarantee paid sick or vacation leave.8
The gay community demands the right to adopt children often without adequately considering how adoptive children come to gays and lesbians; the systemic problems surrounding these children are erased. The New York Times recounted the story of Matt and Ray Lees who have adopted eight children: two from Haiti, one as a baby, and five from a “drug-addicted mother [who] could not care for them.”9 The phrase “could not care for them” ignores a world of systemic conditions: the drug wars do little more than increase criminalization in our poorest neighborhoods while, simultaneously, drug rehabilitation programs are being de-funded. The irony is that it’s judged desirable that two men should adopt such a large number of children, even though a slight dip in their fortunes could place all the children at risk, but the anonymous Black woman is implicitly demonized as an addict and welfare queen.
In all this, there is also the erasure of non-traditional families, both LGBTQ and straight, which are on the rise in a country where fewer than 50 percent of people marry, where divorce is increasing, and where many children grow up quite comfortably with multiple sets of parents and/or caretakers who might not be related to them by blood.
We ought to be wary of the Right’s scrutiny of our families, and we must assert the right of LGBTQ people to form families. It is also worth noting that things are not always black and white, as it were, and that gays and lesbians are perfectly capable of thoughtful, careful adoptions and even trans-racial adoptions. We also have to bear in mind that Black gays and lesbians also adopt children, either from adoptive and foster care agencies or from previous and often heterosexual relationships.
But two daddies are not better than none and, for that matter, no one needs to be a parent to be considered worthy of support. We keep calling for the recognition and fostering of families, but only in affective ways, not through legislation that might actually provide stable support. As a result, we forget that the state ought to provide for resources for all, regardless of marital status and we allow the state to place the burden of responsibility for our well-being upon archaic and often meaningless kinship formations. The progressive-left vision rush to validate the normality of gay families threatens to erase the harsh economic and racial inequalities upon which the modern American family is built. We need to remember that resistance to the Right does not mean giving up on the complicated ways that queer and straight people have fought to have our complex relationships—and ourselves—exist for their own sake.
- Dan Eggen & T.W. Farnam, “While GOP opposes marriage, key donors fund the other side,” Washington Post, August 22, 2012; Sabrina Tavernise, “Adoption by Gay Couples Rise, Despite Barriers,” New York Times, June 14, 2011.
- Two Dads are Better than None blog.
- Andrea Poe, “Obama Administration is Recruiting Gay and Lesbian Foster and Adoptive Parents,” Huffington Post, September 28, 2012.
- Michael A. Memoli and Kathleen Hennessey, “Obama declares support for same-sex marriage,” Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2012.
- Dorothy Roberts, Shattered Bonds (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2002).
- “Gay Adoption Ad,” ILGA.
- Ron Claiborne and Hanna Siegel, “Transracial Adoption Can Provide a Loving Family and an Identity Struggle,” ABC World News, March 3, 2010l; “Josh and Travis,” It’s Conceivable, November 17, 2011.
- Bryce Covert, The Rise and Downfall of the American Single Mother,” Forbes, July, 16, 2012.
- Tavernise, “Adoption by Gay Couples Rise, Despite Barriers.”