The country’s largest organization of pediatricians has come out strongly in favor of allowing gay men and lesbians to adopt their partner’s children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a policy statement in the February issue of its journal Pediatrics "emphasizing that in light of data showing that children of gay and lesbian parents function just as well emotionally, cognitively, and socially as children of heterosexual parents, courts should stop using sexual orientation as grounds to deny members of same-sex couples the right to adopt their partner’s children.
"Children who are born to, or adopted by, one member of a gay or lesbian couple deserve the security of two legally recognized parents," the statement says.
In the vast majority of the 50 states, these couples are legally barred from undertaking such adoptions. Legislators and judges have maintained that the security that children may derive from living in a home with two legal parents who are homosexual does not outweigh the moral failings many people attribute to gays and lesbians and the belief that same-sex parents will have a harmful effect on a child’s development.
Most children who have one lesbian or gay parent "were conceived in the context of a heterosexual relationship," the AAP points out, or adopted when a heterosexual couple were married.
The AAP statement explains, "When a parent in a heterosexual couple ‘comes out’ as lesbian or gay, some parents divorce, and others continue to live as a couple. If they decide to live separately, either parent may be the residential parent, or children may live part time in each home."
Gay or lesbian parents who develop a relationship with a same-sex partner often develop relationships with their children that resemble "stepfamilies," the AAP says, and sometimes the gay or lesbian parent becomes the child’s primary or sole caregiver.
Yet "heterosexist legal precedents" have often not only blocked adoptions that would allow children to be raised in a two-parent household, but also have frequently prevented the gay or lesbian parent from even having visitation rights.
According to the AAP policy statement, coparent or second-parent adoptions in a same-sex relationship offer several potential benefits:
• Guarantee that the second parent’s custody rights will be protected if the first parent falls ill or dies,
• Protect the second parent’s rights to custody and visitation if the couple separates,
• Ensure the child’s eligibility for health benefits through both parents,
• Provide legal grounds for either parent to provide consent for medical care and other important decisions, and
• Create the basis for financial security for children by ensuring eligibility to all appropriate entitlements, such as Social Security survivor benefits.
Jack Drescher, M.D., chair of the APA Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues, praised the pediatricians’ policy statement, calling it "a strong pro-family position." He said that "accepting the reality of same-sex couples who raise children supports the stability of these families, and adoption by a second same-sex parent legally allows the resources of both parents to accrue to children who need them."
A child whose biological parent is unemployed or works at home, for example, would qualify for the other legal parent’s group health insurance.
"Children who have two people in their parenting environment—whatever their age, sex, or relationship—are better off than children with just one parent," Drescher emphasized.
He added that while the APA committee has not yet taken up the adoption issue, he thinks that APA should work toward developing a similar position statement. "Such a position would be consistent with APA’s support of same-sex civil unions," he said.
The chair of APA’s Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families agrees that the pediatric organization’s statement is a positive step in strengthening families. David Fassler, M.D., who is also president of the Vermont Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, told Psychiatric News that the statement is "particularly strong because it’s backed with a summary of research that makes it valuable to all of us who work with kids and are sometimes asked our position on this issue."
Fassler noted that the AAP’s policy statement is consistent with positions on same-sex issues already adopted by APA and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). The AACAP statement points out, "There is no evidence to suggest or support that parents with a gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation are per se different from or deficient in parenting skills, child-centered concerns, and parent-child attachments" when compared with heterosexual parents. It also states that there are no outcome data showing that children raised by homosexual or bisexual parents show more instability or developmental dysfunction than peers raised by two heterosexual parents.
Fassler said that the Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families "welcomes this action by the AAP" and plans to add it to the agenda for its May meeting.
To help their recommendations become reality, the AAP urges pediatricians to "become familiar with professional literature regarding gay and lesbian parents and their children; support the right of every child and family to the financial, psychological, and legal security that results from having both parents legally recognized; and advocate for initiatives that establish permanency through coparent or second-parent adoption for children of same-sex partners."
When asked what reaction the AAP has received to its adoption statement, Joe Sanders, M.D., AAP executive director, told Psychiatric News that AAP members "have been pretty well split right down the middle, not overwhelmingly in one direction or the other."
The AAP’s membership department has heard from 15 members who say they plan to resign because of the statement, Sanders said. It has also been contacted by one pediatrician who wanted to join specifically because he thought the statement was so important.
In sum, however, the academy has received "no more negative feedback on the statement than on other controversial issues we have addressed, such as breast feeding and circumcision," said Sanders.
On its public-access Web site, the response has been 10-to-1 in favor of the statement, he pointed out, adding that he had no knowledge of whether these responses were part of an organized e-mail campaign.
"We’re an advocacy group for children," Sanders emphasized, and advocating for them "was the goal of this statement. We put out the message that children of gay parents deserve the same opportunities, privileges, and rights as children in traditional families."
In the February issue of Pediatrics Ellen Perrin, M.D., a member of the AAP Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, described the scientific literature on children of gay or lesbian parents. She pointed out that while "research exploring the diversity of parental relationships among gay and lesbian parents is just beginning," there are sufficient data to show that "children whose parents divorce (regardless of sexual orientation) are better adjusted when their parents have high self-esteem, maintain a responsible and amicable relationship, and are currently living with a partner."
She acknowledged that "although gay and lesbian parents may not, despite their best efforts, be able to protect their children fully from the effects of stigmatization and discrimination, parents’ sexual orientation is not a variable that, in itself, predicts their ability to provide a home environment that supports children’s development."
The article "Technical Report: Coparent or Second-Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents" is posted on the Web at www.aap.org/policy/020008.html. ▪