Why the Lords are not the problem to adopting children


Gender Agenda

Gender Agenda

Issue 2 Michaelmas 2002

The magazine of


Women's Union

Why the Lords are not the problem to adopting children

Kathleen Richardson

Gay issues are in the news again. I mean these days you can’t open a newspaper without
someone talking about their leading role in this or that gay drama, or another soap doing a
‘gay’ storyline, and even comedienne Dawn French is starring in a new comedy Wild West, where
she plays a lesbian woman. In fact, it seems that being ‘gay’ is so in, which probably
explains why there was such a reaction against the House of Lords decision to reject a clause
allowing gay couples to adopt. There is obviously a real contradiction here between the
wonderful politically correct world in which you and I inhabit (even the Daily Mirror was
advising viewers to watch Tipping the Velvet, and didn’t even blush at describing some of the
raunchy sex scenes), and then there’s the Lords, or is there? Surprisingly my greatest
objection to the Lords is that it is a backward, undemocratic institution, but this was not
why the objections were raised. Well maybe as an afterthought. What really seemed to get on
everyone’s nerves, was the idea that there was this thing called marriage, and that it was a
‘better’ (can we say such things in these times?), arrangement for a child. What is
interesting when one begins to explore the debate further, is in fact how many people in Lords
actually voted in favour of the clause of same-sex relationship, 162 voted in favour and 196
voted to ban same sex couples from adopting, a margin of around 30. The move to
allow only heterosexual unmarried couples to adopt was not put to a vote. It was hardly a sign
that gay ‘rights’ were on the line. But what surprised me most about the debate, despite the
too-ing and fro-ing between how long heterosexual relationships last in comparison to
homosexual relationships; and how many partners gay people have in relation to
heterosexuals; and how much stigma will affect the adopted children of gay parents than
straight parents, all these issues aside, it is surprising in the Bill how much
emphasis is placed on adoption as a matter of placing a child in some socially perfect
‘cultural’ environment.

 


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In the Adoption and Children Bill (2002) (a restatement and amendment
to the Children Act of 1989), the overriding theme is ‘the best interests of the child’ but
how are the best interests of children interpreted? It states in Chapter 1 that the court and
adoption agency must make a decision based on ‘the child’s age, sex, background and any of
the child’s characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant’. Fair enough, these
are all factors to consider, but then the adoption Bill goes on to state ‘In placing the
child for adoption, the adoption agency must give due consideration to the child’s religious
persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background’. Now consider this clause
in the case of those arguing in favour of same-sex parents, those in favour argue that the
ability of a couple (though it is legal for single people to adopt), to provide a strong,
loving and supportive family should be the ONLY criteria for assessing the basis of good
parents. What is interesting, is this is NOT the case, even for heterosexual couples, or
single parents trying to adopt. There is so much emphasis placed on the idea of the ‘culture’
or ‘identity’ of the child that even married heterosexuals are considered inadequate parents
in many cases. Adoption issues have been dominated by multicultural ideas that argue that
white people should not adopt black children (an issue that was raised recently in the
internet adoption scandal), or that potential parents from one religious orientation should
be allowed to adopt a child from another. In fact there is so much emphasis placed on the
idea of choosing the right cultural background for the children and less on the possibilities
of a new loving home, that it is not surprising that the strongest argument in favour of
same-sex coupling ‘it only matters that two people love each other and provide a good home’
had little effect.

The Bill was proposed to address a serious problem affecting the adoption services, and
that is, of the 4-5,000 children that become available for adoption every year in England and
Wales, only a small percentage are adopted each year. The aim of Blair and his aides was to
expand the categories of people allowed to adopt so as to encourage more children to find
homes. But the issue is not really that there are too few people to adopt, but that there are
too many restrictions on who can adopt whom. The reason according to Lady O’Cathain (a strong
opposer of the same-sex clause explained in the House of Lords) is that ‘90% of
would-be-adopters gave up or were turned down as the process lasted too long. Adopters were
told you are too poor, too fat, you live in too big a house or go to the wrong church’. The
adoption process is currently so time-consuming and involves such rigorous selection based on
characteristics like ethnicity and religion, that many married couples and single people just
cannot adopt or give up trying. Additionally, homosexual couples can adopt, as can unmarried
couples, the real problem is that only one of the coupling is legally registered as the
guardian, and one parent has no rights. As adoption is decided through local authorities, it
is definitely the case that some local authorities are more open-minded about same-sex
adoption partners than others. For example Southwark Council in London launched a campaign in
2001 entitled ‘Never thought I could’ and the posters were aimed at single people over 45,
people who work full-time, or are unemployed and gays and lesbians. It is not the case that it
is impossible, and the decision in the Lords does not exemplify a backlash against gays in
society. What is more depressing is that multiculturalist ideas have come to dominate the way
we think about our relationships with one another, over-emphasising the factors that are there
by accident of birth. By these standards we prescribe who and what people should be, rather
than what they have the potential to become. There is something inherently universal in
people, regardless of background or perspective, and that is the genuine desire to provide a
home, care and love for a child.

 


 

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