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Dragging the Old Nag to the Racetrack, Again

Once again, gay rights have been thrust into the center of a political campaign. Will it be a winning strategy again?

Queer, Isn't It?: Dragging the Old Nag to the Racetrack, Again

Image found on Equine Express.eu

Yet the old girl started warming up again, after gay adoption suddenly became an issue following a New York Times interview in which John McCain said he opposed the practice. It's doubtful that McCain intentionally planned to make gay adoption an issue in the election, as he hasn't seemed overly willing to discuss gay issues previously and has, at times, come across looking rather ill-informed (a student at a New Hampshire high school had to explain to him what "LGBT" meant). Nonetheless, his statements stirred up some animosity on both sides of the issue. [Nagourney, Adam, and Cooper, Michael, "McCain's Conservative Model? Roosevelt (Theodore, That is)", 13 July 2008]

Understandably, LGBT leaders lambasted his position, noting that gay parents are just as successful as their straight counterparts are. Surprisingly, conservatives also attacked McCain, arguing that his clarification of the New York Time remarks, in which he said that abandoned children needed "caring parents" more than "the alternative", only muddied his stance. (Barack Obama's website states, "A child will benefit from a healthy, loving home, whether the parents are gay or not", while third party candidate Ralph Nader's website implies his support for gay adoption, "The Nader campaign supports full equal rights for gays and lesbians.")

McCain hasn't addressed the issue further, but it will most likely come into play at one of the debates this fall. Before then, it would be a good idea to know the truth about gay adoption, so that political pundits and party operatives of either side can't spin the issue with misleading statements or falsehoods. Can gay adoptive parents raise a healthy, well-adjusted child? There's no question as to whether adoptive parents can raise a child as well as biological parents, so the question is really about the "gay" part.

Considerable research has been done into the question of whether gay parents can be as effective as straight parents. The overwhelming majority of non-biased data shows that they can. Thus, if adoptive parents are as good as biological parents, and gay parents are as good as straight parents, then gay adoptive parents must be as good as straight adoptive parents. Simple logic.

If only it were that simple. Human behavior doesn't allow us to speak in absolutes, and the welfare of a child is too important to entrust to something as unstable as…well, humanity. When dealing with adoptive parents, the question of suitability is settled through a stringent screening process, one that many biological parents would quickly fail. Thus, since prospective gay adoptive parents must meet rigid standards to even be considered, there is no doubt that they have the intelligence, background, aptitude, and financial resources necessary to raise a children. So what could possibly be the objection to gay adoption?

The objections come in three forms. First is the argument that a child is better with both a mother and a father, the position that McCain initially took. Undoubtedly, this is true to a certain extent, assuming that the father and mother are both loving and nurturing caregivers. Yet it is hardly realistic. More parents are raising children without the benefit of any partner, and far too many children are finding themselves in foster care due to a lack of would-be adoptive families. While having a male and female parent increases a child's gender socialization skills, having two same-gender parents will provide a broader range of socialization skills and perspectives than just one parent or no parent.

However, the road to adulthood can be troubling for a child of gay parents. The psychological and social difficulties that these children sometimes experience is not the result of bad parenting or the sexual orientation of the parents, but frequently the result of societal judgment. Condemnation and criticism of gay parents is frequent, vocal, and as in the case of McCain, public.

Religious exclusion, political posturing, judgmental neighbors, rejection from other family members, legal difficulties, and sermons on a certain hell-fire afterlife are things that kids watch their gay parents endure and struggle to overcome. Add that to the school bullying they must endure at the hands of children who are taught homophobia is acceptable and it is small wonder that these kids might have difficulties.

The solution lies not in banning gay and lesbian persons from parenthood, but in getting society to place the needs of the child ahead of personal prejudices. Stop telling kids their parents are freaks and maybe the kids might socialize a little better. Simple logic.

In fact, Christopher J. Alexander concluded in his article, "Developmental Attachment and Gay and Lesbian Adoptions" that homosexual parents are particularly sensitive to the assumption that any developmental problems their children are having will be construed as an indication that the parents' orientation is the cause. However, Alexander concludes, "Ultimately, we need to trust that two decades of research on gay and lesbian families is correct. That is, that children raised in these households have to contend with unique circumstances, but that social and emotional development proceeds in a normal manner." (Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 2001)

The second objection to gay adoption is the hysterical portrait of the leering pedophile who wants to own a human sexual playtoy. This objection is one that is never raised regarding straight adoptions, despite the fact that most pedophiles (93 percent) are straight. It is fear-mongering at its most hateful, a lie that uber-conservatives spread with as much frequency as possible in hopes that repetition will make it true. The truth is that gay adoptive parents want to be parents, not perverts.

The third objection is that being raised by gay parents will make the child gay. If the sexual orientation of one's parents actually determined a child's sexual orientation, would there be any gay people at all? After all, the parents of most homosexual individuals were straight, and it didn't seem to influence their genetic disposition to homosexuality. Why would being raised by a gay parent alter a child's genetic disposition to heterosexuality?

Given all this, why is McCain's statement important? It's doubtful that voters will decide to vote for or against him based on this one interview. Nonetheless, it does present a frame of mind that will determine the types of people he will appoint to judgeships, cabinet positions, and overseas posts.

How much gay adoption (or gay marriage, gays in the workplace, and gay inclusion in hate crime legislation) will actually play in the upcoming elections remains to be seen. Wise candidates won't make these matters the cornerstone of their campaigns, although, like McCain, they may occasionally find themselves in the media spotlight when asked to address gay-related issues. And wise voters won't make decisions based solely on gay-related issues, as too much as at stake here and abroad.

Whether one chooses McCain, Obama or another candidate to vote for in the next election is a personal choice. The stakes are high for the LGBT community, but they are high for all Americans. As long as one's decision is an informed one, based on an understanding of the issues and where this country's future will be headed under each candidate's potential term of office, it will be the correct choice. And hopefully, that old tired nag Gaybait can be put out to pasture for good.

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