Lawmakers here in Tennessee are catching a lot of flak for their support of HB 836, which supposedly allows adoption agencies to “discriminate against” LGBTQ applicants. At first glance, it looks unfair. After all, we all have friends we know and love who are gay and who deserve to be treated fairly. But HB 836 sounds unfair only if we are looking at it from the adults’ perspective. When we view adoption from the child’s perspective, prioritizing homes with both mothers and fathers not only makes sense, it’s critically important.
For the first eight years of my life, I was raised by two gay men — my father and his partner. My formative years were almost entirely devoid of women. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a mother until I watched “The Land Before Time” at school. My 5-year-old brain could not understand why I didn’t have the mom that I suddenly desperately wanted. I felt the loss. I felt the hole. As I grew, I tried to fill that hole with aunts, my dads’ lesbian friends and teachers. I remember asking my first grade teacher if I could call her mom. I asked that question of any woman who showed me any amount of love and affection. It was instinctive. I craved a mother’s love even though I was well-loved by my two gay dads.
Gender matters in parenting
Why is that? Because gender matters in parenting. And because gender matters in parenting, that means gender matters when placing children for adoption. I have personally experienced the pain that motherlessness causes. I could never support any law or institution that endorses motherlessness. Many sociologists agree that fatherlessness is a scourge on our society. Why would anyone think that purposely depriving a child of the love of a mother or father is a good thing?
When it comes to HB 836, we need to be clear about who adoption is for. In adoption, the child is the client. Adoption is not about giving children to adults who want them. It’s about finding the best home for children who have lost their parents. When adoption is done right, every child will be placed in a loving home, but not every adult who wants a child will get one.
Next, we must recognize that for the child, adoption begins with loss. Even if they are placed with their adoptive parents at birth, adoptees suffer trauma as a result of being separated from their biological parents. As an adoptee who knows several other adoptees, I can tell you that it’s a trauma that affects children for life. The adoption agency’s job is to find a family that is best positioned to shepherd their child through her loss and trauma. There are multiple factors in that calculation — from the couple’s finances, to background checks, to readiness to parent the child’s special needs, to relational stability, etc. But make no mistake, the presence of a father and a mother should be a factor in every agency’s calculation.
Men can’t be mothers, and women can’t be fathers
I know what I am about to say is unpopular, but it’s true nonetheless: Men cannot be mothers, and women cannot be fathers. Kids need both. The well-established difference between mothering and fathering reveals that men and women offer distinct and complementary benefits to children. From the ways they play, to the ways they talk, to how they discipline, to how they prepare children for the world. Male- and female-specific parenting optimizes child development. Tennessee agencies that recognize and prioritize homes where children will receive maternal and paternal love should be praised, not demonized.
I am not saying that gay couples cannot love and parent children well. I love my dad and his partner deeply, and we share a wonderful relationship. I acknowledge that there are times, given the child’s needs and availability of adoptive parents, when two fathers or two mothers may be the best placement for the child. But to say that the biological sex of the parents is irrelevant is based in ideology, not reality. I am also not saying that just because you are a married man and woman you are automatically qualified to adopt. Plenty of heterosexual couples will not make the cut. No adult, gay or straight, has a right to adopt. Rather, children who have lost their parents have a right to be adopted. And whenever possible, they should be adopted by a mom and dad.
Originally posted on The Tennessean