Casaubon's Book

As Arizona ramps up its attempt to win national “America’s stupidest laws” competition (hotly contested, admittedly) by prioritizing heterosexual married couples over gay people and singles for adoption, there’s a lovely story about two gay fathers and their 12 children adopted from foster care:

These are all your kids? Oh, my gosh. Their poor mother. Where is she? I have to congratulate her.”

“I am their mother – and their father,” Steven said. Then, reaching out to shake her hand, he introduced himself, and then Roger, and each of the kids as they loaded into two cars and buckled in.

The men watched her face, saw her expression soften.

“That is so commendable of you,” she told them. “They are very lucky children.”

No, the men shook their heads and smiled. They are the lucky ones.

If it’s ever legal for them to marry in Arizona, Steven and Roger say they’ll be first in line, with their kids – and probably by then grandkids – in tow. And if it never happens, well, a marriage certificate and birth certificates are not what defines their family.

“Can you see what Christmas is going to be like at that house 20 years from now? There will be 100 people there,” says Monbleau, the CPS adoptions caseworker. “I know that they will always be there for those kids.”

Neither of the Hams’ caseworkers, Monbleau or Shew-Plummer, worried about placing so many children in one home, though both concede they wouldn’t do the same with every family. In separate interviews, each said she would entrust Steven and Roger with her own children.

Though Steven and Roger never planned to have such a large family, neither can imagine life any other way. Even when their running joke is that, when all the children are grown, they will buy a one-bedroom condominium in San Diego that doesn’t allow pets or kids.

“Sure, there are days when I am ripping my hair out, but I wouldn’t change it for anything,” Steven says. “We knew the kids deserved a better life, and someone who would love them, no matter what. None of my kids will ever tell you, anytime in their lives, even years from now, that they didn’t feel loved.”

The article notes that most of the people who actually deal with children could give a damn about sexual preference – they want kids in good homes. Statistically speaking, gay parents and single parents are *more* likely to adopt children with special needs that are hard to place,. And with thousands of kids who don’t find families, I have honestly never understood opposition to gay adoption – do people really think that kids are better off in (almost always heterosexual) violent, dangerous families that can’t provide for their basic needs? Or with a permanent inability to attach or function in society because they never had a family?

By 2003, when Roger and Steven were meeting their first child, the nation was taking sides.

The California Supreme Court affirmed that a same-sex partner could petition to adopt his or her partner’s child, and 60 percent of adoption agencies nationwide reported accepting applications from gays and lesbians.

But North Dakota’s legislature passed a law that allows adoption agencies to refuse to participate in child placements that violate the agency’s “religious or moral convictions or policies,” including denying placement of a child with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals or same-sex couples.

And along the way, there were the various attempts by the Arizona Legislature to put parameters on who makes the best foster and adoptive parent(s).

None of it could deter Steven and Roger from starting their family.

“The more someone tells me I can’t do something, the more determined I am to do it,” Steven says, watching his children play from under a big blue umbrella in a park on a Sunday afternoon. “People can think whatever they want to think. We know what makes a family a family.”

Roger, next to Steven, says, “We were determined not to let anyone stand in our way to do what we thought was best.”

It seems ridiculous to the pair that, when there are 10,514 children in the state’s care – including group homes, foster care and residential treatment – the priority isn’t simply finding the best home for each child regardless of parents’ marital status or sexual orientation.

My parents took their plunge into foster care shortly before gay and lesbian foster care became a political football in the 1988 election. Watching Michael Dukakis disavow the gay foster families in his state – my gay family who had worked really hard to keep four damaged siblings together – to get elected president remains one of the critical political awakenings of my youth. I credit it with some of my own distaste for both liberalism and conservativism – for my becoming an actual leftist, rather than a liberal. Learning at 16 that my family would be sold out for political gain was a useful revelation to me, and in a way, I don’t regret it. I do, however, regret that kids and teenagers in families now still have to learn this.

Last night my mother accompanied us to the final MAPP training, the last night of preparation before we become foster parents. The mood at the class was ebullient – people brought extended families, everyone who had them brought their kids, the social workers organized children’s activities. One family in our class is already transitioning a three year old boy into their home, another member has had a call she couldn’t accept.

We all know we’re on the cusp of a major shift in our families – something hard, sometimes scary because of all the bad, difficult things that can come with it. The funny thing is that my mother, who had foster children, who worked a social worker doing removals and placements, who did more than 50 adoptions is not worried. She just wants to know the names, ages, and most important of all, clothing sizes of her new grandkids – the rest, well, we’ll go from there. That doesn’t make it easy, or mean there aren’t problems. That’s just what you do – its what she did with her kids, the ones born to her and the ones that lived in her home for a time. It is just what every functional family does.

The good news is that even in the most backwards places politically, ordinary gay families have given the lie to the claim that you can rank the value of families by sexual preference. For the first time, a majority of Americans support gay marriage, and the demographics of every poll suggest that as time goes on and generations shift, opposition to gay marriage and adoption will disappear. Because most of us know Steven and Roger or a Naomi and Sue, or someone rather like them who are just raising their families like everyone else, and who can’t think why you wouldn’t want them to, or why you wouldn’t want to see your own kids grow up like them. Someday even the slowest and last to get a clue, our legislators, won’t be able to convince anyone against the evidence of their eyes that gay and lesbian families are like all families – just doing their family thing. And when that day comes round, all I can say is “Hallelujah!”

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 sue
    May 4, 2011

    Amen
    Sue

  2. #2 Pablo
    May 4, 2011

    Sharon – while the majority of americans support gay marriage, the majority of those who vote do not. That is the remaining hurdle

  3. #3 Greenpa
    May 4, 2011

    Ah, Sharon, you crazy optimist, you. :-)

    “Someday even the slowest and last to get a clue, our legislators, won’t be able to convince anyone against the evidence of their eyes that gay and lesbian families are like all families – just doing their family thing. And when that day comes round, all I can say is “Hallelujah!”

    Much as it saddens me to pain on your tirade, I have to say I doubt the day will come.

    “People are a pain in the ass.” is a phrase I have recently discovered. And people with any kind of religious absolute certainty are certainly a bigger, and historically permanent pain. They never go away.

    So, just keep your loins girded. And do keep collecting the good stories; they help.

    Excelsior! :-)

  4. #4 Shamba
    May 4, 2011

    As a lifelong resident of Arizona, I hate to see the yahoos–a very polite word!–who our legislature these days coming up with the most wacko laws in the country. I know we have lots of competition but we’ve come up with some real zingers the last two years.

    There are actually a lot of us “liberals” or whatever you want to call us who are doing our best here! That hallelujah day must surely come, Sharon.

    peaced, Shamba

  5. #5 Elly
    May 4, 2011

    I was talking to a couple I know here in CA about Prop 8. Yes, they would rather kids were in a home with drug using parents than in an adoptive home with gay parents.

  6. #6 Ewan R
    May 4, 2011

    But North Dakota’s legislature passed a law that allows adoption agencies to refuse to participate in child placements that violate the agency’s “religious or moral convictions or policies,” including denying placement of a child with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals or same-sex couples.

    I’m assuming then placements could be refused on grounds of being the wrong sect of christian, being religious but not christian, wearing mixed fibres, working on the sabbath (whichever day you denote as such) or any other number of mind numbingly stupid reasons (given that homosexuality isn’t included in the ten commandments (a go to for zealots pushing this nonsense in most situations) you’d at least expect folk who have carved images, use the phrase “my god” or “Jesus christ” wantonly, sabbath breakers,adulterers, and those who are covetous to also be struck off willy nilly, and with more fervor than is aimed at homosexuals – which certainly would go a long way to preventing anyone needing a family ever getting one.

    Odd that they’re only focusing on sexuality. It’s almost as if rather than acting on moral or religious convictions they’re just hateful homophobes looking for any justification to enforce their own putrid point of view.

  7. #7 Robyn M
    May 4, 2011

    @Greenpa: well, you’re right that people are pains in the ass, and I certainly agree that humans will probably always find new and more inventive reasons to be a**holes to each other. But one of the truly remarkable things about us is exactly that ability to find *new* and *more inventive* reasons to hate each other, while at the same time (and here’s the cool part) finally getting over the old reasons. The old saw comparison to gay marriage, for example, is interracial marriage. In the 50′s that was a total dead-letter, now you have to go pretty backwater to find anyone who would argue against it. My own kids would be totally mystified by it being an issue. So I agree with Sharon, our society will likely, finally, accept gay marriage. We will just have moved on to some new horrendous offense in the meanwhile. Sort of like a fad, ya know?

  8. #8 Ewan R
    May 4, 2011

    The old saw comparison to gay marriage, for example, is interracial marriage.

    So long as you ain’t in Mississippi apparently

    (and a Rethuglican)

  9. #9 Paul Turnbull
    May 4, 2011

    Well said.

    Up here in Canada I’m always amazed that the bastion of conservatism, Alberta, is one of the pioneers of gay adoption.

  10. #10 Greenpa
    May 4, 2011

    Robyn M – excellent points; the interracial marriage movement is a dead on example.

    You’ve cheered me up. :-) Your final point notwithstanding.

  11. #11 Sharon Astyk
    May 5, 2011

    I’m with Robyn – the thing that social justice movements do so well is that they don’t just change policy, they make it literally alien to believe what was once believed – consider interracial marriage, or even segregation. Sure, there are always idiots and they do tend to congregate in particular places ;-), but ask most people now if they’d get up and march and throw rocks at little African American kids wanting to go to school with theirs, and that’s just unthinkable. People simply don’t care enough (that doesn’t mean that all racism is gone, of course), and the idea of being an *overt* racist is so socially unacceptable as to be really weird. That’s what’s happening with gay marriage. The demographics are overwhelming – it is generational, and as generations shift, the opposition will be not only gone, but alien. This is one of the few major battles of the future we’re going to win. Lots we’re going to lose, but I’m celebratin’ on this one!!!!

    Sharon

  12. #12 MEA
    May 5, 2011

    30 or more years ago, I saw a program on PBS about gay adoption, and one of the things that suck with me was the fact that a significant number of people who disapproved of children being placed with a gay couple changed their minds when told the couple planned to adopt disabled children. What I took from that was that those people though that disabled children were less valuable than others. Sort of like shoving all the sub-human’s together.

    Do I need to add that I support adoption of children by any qualified parents?

  13. #13 Isis
    May 5, 2011

    MEA,

    I’m not sure that’s the conclusion I’d take away from it. I think it’s more a matter of “it’s best for a kid to be adopted by a straight couple, but if the kid is disabled, it may be difficult to place him/her, and it’s better for a kid to get adopted by a gay couple than not to get adopted at all.”

    Of course, I could be wrong. But that just seems like the most logical explanation to me…

    P.S.
    But of course, I agree with you, I support adoption of children by any qualified parents, regardless of sexual orientation. Just tryin’ to give folks the benefit of doubt, is all…

  14. #14 queen of string
    May 5, 2011

    What an excellent, well balanced, calm article. The rounds of foster care and institutional care endured by children in the care of the state is so damaging. All children need stable loving adults to relate to. Only by healing the children can we hope to have a better world to come.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.