Thursday, March 01, 2007

Gay Adoption: A Catholic Lawyer's Perspective

NOTE: For an update on public opinion on same-gender marriage and adoption in the European Union, see postscript below.

Leading Catholic human rights lawyer Conor Gearty has written an insightful commentary in the February 10 edition of The Tablet.

Entitled “Sex and the Secular Liberal,” Gearty’s commentary highlights the recent controversy in the Untied Kingdom that has pitted the government against the country’s Catholic bishops over the issue of gay adoption.

According to Gearty, “Misunderstanding the depth of post-socialist commitment to equality and diversity, especially that of sexual orientation, was a serious mistake in the Church’s handling of the gay adoption issue. . . . The liberal vision of a tolerant society based on mutual respect but also on a rejection of intolerance is not one to be feared. Rather, it is an offer of partnership that the Church should joyfully seize. But first it has to work out how on earth to manoeuvre itself out of the cul-de-sac of sexuality into which its universality has forced it. Liberal society knows exactly where it is going; does the Church?”

Ponders Gearty: “Might Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and his episcopal brethren benefit from a board of lay Catholics to advise them on their contact with secular society? In the past week it has been disconcerting to read about the way the gay adoption issue seems to have been tackled by the Catholic Church in England and Wales, which made it clear to the Government that it could not accept equality regulations that would put same-sex couples on an equal footing with heterosexual couples as adoptive parents. In doing so the Church raised the stakes, with threats to close down adoption agencies if the Government enforced the requirement to accept the regulations.

“The Church’s stand left many questions to be answered. Are homosexual acts a ‘grave depravity,’ as the Vatican says, if within the context of a loving, monogamous relationship? And if so, why are the bishops so apparently relaxed about allowing referrals of such couples to other adoption agencies? Why did the Church make its threat to close the agencies so early in the dispute, thereby seeming to turn vulnerable children into weapons in the political battle?”

Gearty raises some important questions. I’ve long wondered, for instance, why it is that members of the Catholic hierarchy, convinced as they are of the danger posed to children in families headed by two same-gender adults, don’t demand that governments immediately remove children from such families. I mean, this would be the logical next step after denouncing gay adoptions. Doesn’t the fact that they’re not demanding such action call into question both their understanding of the issue and their commitment to their convictions?

In the Vatican’s 2003 document, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, it’s stated that, “As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in [homosexual] unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons . . . Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children.”

I wonder what the “experience” actually is that supposedly “has shown” that children raised by same-gender parents are in danger of “violence.” As British theologian James Alison has observed, “If it were true that experience (measured study over time, undergoing proper peer review) has shown it to be the case that to entrust infants to the care of same-sex partners has a deleterious effect on their upbringing, and is thus a form of violence, then of course we should fight tooth and nail to prevent this from happening. But is it true?”

Alison notes that “there is no footnote . . . in the Vatican’s document to indicate the source of the claim, ‘As experience has shown . . .’” He is accordingly left to wonder: “Should not someone expressing serious concern about what might happen to infants do better than that?”

Alison’s question is especially pertinent given that there are credible scientific studies available that address this issue. Not surprisingly, none of their findings support the statements of the Vatican.

Here’s just one example: In a 2002 article in Pediatrics [Vol. 109 No. 2 February 2002, pp. 341-344], the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is reported that, “A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children’s optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes.”

We can only hope that the current Catholic leadership takes to heart their own Second Vatican Council’s 1965 Declaration on Christian Education, a document which, although written with young people in mind, seems today just as appropriate for all of us, including the elderly men within the Catholic hierarchy. This particular document states that, “. . . people must be helped, with the aid of the latest advances in psychology and the arts and the sciences of teaching, to develop harmoniously their physical, moral, and intellectual endowments, so that they may gradually acquire a mature sense of responsibility.”

It seems to me that in the matter of gay adoption, it’s gay parents, not the vast majority of the Catholic hierarchy, who are displaying “a mature sense of responsibility.”

To read Conor Gearty’s commentary, “Sex and the Secular Liberal,” in its entirety, click here.


Postscript 3/3/07: The March/April 2007 issue of The Gay & Lesbian Review contains an interesting report on the range of public opinion in the European Union with regards to both same-gender marriage and same-gender adoption.

EU Countries Divided on Same-Sex Marriage
The Gay & Lesbian Review
March/April 2007

Public opinion on same-sex marriage and adoption show enormous variation from one European country to the next, according to a large-scale survey that covered all 25 countries of the European Union (EU), two countries in the process of joining, and two candidate countries. For all of the countries surveyed, under half of the sample populations favored same-sex marriage and a third approved of gay adoptions, but this finding may be lisleading in light of this high level of variance.

The study, conducted by TNS Opinion & Social/Eurobarometer, surveyed 29,152 people age fifteen and over in September and October 2006. The survey questionnaire took respondents through a wide range of issues related to EU membership, the general state of affairs in Europe and the world, and a range of social issues, including same-sex marriage and adoption. They were asked to agree or disagree with the following two statements: "Homosexual marriages should be allowed throughout Europe"; and "Adoption of children should be authorized for homosexual couples throughout Europe."

Of the many issues covered in the survey, these questions proved t be among the most divisive among the national populations polled, with same-sex marriage acceptance ranging from a high of 82 percent for the Netherlands to a low of eleven percent for Romania and twelve percent for Latvia.

This division also revealed an especially sharp division between East and West, i.e, between the old NATO countries and the Warsaw Pact countries of the Cold War era (with the interesting exception of the Czech Republic). This may reflect the fact that the latter countries emerged only recently, after 1991, frm Soviet domination with its generally conservative positions on social issues. However, the relative conservatism of two non-Soviet countries, Greece and Portugal, suggests that economic development may also be an underlying factor in shaping attitudes toward GLBT people.

Another striking pattern to emerge is the extent to which public opinion reflects the actual legal situation in these countries. Acceptance of same-sex marriage is highest in countries where marriage or its legal equivalent is currently on the books, which is the case in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Most of the other countries of Western Europe - France, Germany, Ireland, the Czech Republic, among others - also recognize same-sex couples as eligible for many benefits of marriage. Presumably the legal situation reflects public opinion in these countries to a large extent; but it may also be the case that the existence of same-sex marriage as a legal reality has a liberalizing effect on public opinion.

One thing is clear: countries that have had an active gay rights movement for the longest are the ones most likely to have both legal protections and favorable public opinion on these issues. From a baseline of nearly universal rejection in the mid-20th century, an atmosphere of tolerance has evolved only slowly and painstakingly as a GLBT rights movement has taken hold in Europe and the reality of gay people has been acknowledged and embraced.

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Image 3: Steve Baines

Recommended Off-Site Links:
Why Banning Gay Adoptions is Wrong
A Collection of Articles and Research Findings Concerning Children Raised by Gay Parents

See also the previous
Wild Reed posts:
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Vatican Considers the “Lesser of Two Evils”
On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance
Be Not Afraid You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex

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