Gay marriage raises prospect of NY adoption boom

By Chris Hawley and Michael Hill
July 11, 2011 / Boston.com

First comes love, then comes marriage. Now adoption lawyers and agencies in New York say they're getting ready for a baby boom as same-sex couples emboldened by the state's new gay marriage law take the next step and try to adopt children.

New York will allow same-sex marriages beginning July 24, becoming the most populous state to legalize such weddings. Thousands of couples are expected to tie the knot.

The state already permits unmarried couples, both gay and straight, to adopt children. But a wedding ring is an important milestone in a relationship -- and can also bolster a couple's case as they try to impress social workers, adoption agencies and birth mothers during the often competitive adoption process, couples and adoption experts say.

"It's sort of the next natural progression," said Jonathan Truong of Brooklyn, who decided to adopt a boy after marrying his longtime partner, Ed Cowen, in Canada. "You have that feeling of wanting to be in a family."

Experts won't know for sure whether adoptions have increased in the five other states, plus Washington, D.C., that have legalized gay marriage until the results of the 2010 census are released this year, said Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles.

But nationwide, about 19,000 gay couples had adopted children as of 2009, he said. That's up from 10,700 couples in 2000 -- the same year Vermont began offering civil unions and four years before Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

"I think they will feel more entitled to be a family under the new law," said Susan Watson, director of U.S. adoptions at the Spence-Chapin adoption agency in Manhattan.

The prospect has alarmed conservative religious groups that consider same-sex relationships and parenting immoral.

"Sanctioning such unions as `marriages' only makes the violation worse; and adding children to the mix, worse still," said Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group.

Rumaan Alam, 33, and David Land, 37, of Brooklyn, adopted their son, Simon, soon after getting married in California in 2008. The state banned such marriages just five months after they were legalized.

Alam said they plan to get married again in New York for the benefit of their nearly 2-year-old son.

"He's going to go to school and know that he doesn't have a mommy and a daddy like other kids," Alam said. "We think it's something important for him being able to say, `Well, at least my Dad and my Papa are married the way that everyone else's parents are.'"

For lesbian couples, the road to parenthood is relatively easy. All that's needed is a sperm donor or a cooperative male friend who will agree to terminate parental rights when the baby is born. The other partner then adopts her partner's child through a "second-parent" adoption.

The new marriage statute will make the second-parent adoption unnecessary under New York law. But most adoption lawyers are recommending that parents do it anyway to protect themselves if they travel or move to a state that doesn't recognize gay marriage.

"The state where you're vacationing may not see things the same way," said Nina Rumbold, an adoption lawyer.

For men or for women who can't conceive, the process is more complicated.

Cowen and Truong said the urge to start a family began after they got married in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2005. They looked into hiring a surrogate mother, but that route was expensive and fraught with legal hurdles. New York prohibits surrogacy-for-hire, so they must be done in another state.

Adopting from another country was a difficult option because most countries bar same-sex couples from adopting.

The couple decided to try for an American baby and began the months-long process of applying to be parents. There were forms to fill out documenting both men's background and finances. Then a social worker came to their Brooklyn apartment and did a long interview.

Next came the hunt for a pregnant woman looking to give up her baby. To get around the long waiting lists at many New York adoption agencies, many couples advertise themselves directly to mothers through classified ads and websites.

Cowen and Truong bought newspaper ads and rented a toll-free number. Worried about spooking young mothers, they hired an answering service to explain to callers that they were a gay couple.

They were surprised to find that many didn't care.

"A lot of them were brought up without a father in the home, and so they really miss their father and they think the idea of two fathers is amazing," Cowen said.

Other mothers felt that two working men made the household more financially secure, he said. Truong manages the laboratory at a hospital, and Cowen owns an advertising firm.

Less than a year later after starting the application process, the two men were the proud fathers of Franklin, now a bubbly 2-year-old. Truong is "Daddy" and Cowen is "Dada."

"What color is that?" Truong asked as Franklin scribbled on an envelope with a pen one recent afternoon.

"Blue!" Franklin shouted.

"He's so smart," Cowen said, beaming.

They're now trying to adopt another child.

New York's new marriage law comes as several other states are wrestling with the issue of adoptions by gay couples. In April, an Arkansas court struck down a ban on such adoptions. Arizona, meanwhile, passed a law giving heterosexual married couples preference.

In Illinois, a Catholic organization that licenses foster and adoptive parents is suing the state over a law barring discrimination against gay or unmarried couples. Three Catholic dioceses have suspended their adoption placement services, following the lead of Catholic charities in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

"Children do best when raised by a married mother and father," said Peter Sprigg, a policy adviser for the Washington-based Family Research Council, which has fought gay marriage. "Mothers and fathers contribute to the parenting task in unique ways."

In New York, the new marriage law contains a clause allowing religious groups to deny "accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges" to same-sex couples. That should allow church-affiliated adoption agencies to deal only with heterosexual couples, avoiding the legal controversies that have flared in other states, Rumbold said.

Same-sex adoptions in New York date to 1995, when a state court decision cleared the way for all unmarried couples to adopt. But not all cases went smoothly.

College professor Peri Rainbow and her wife, Tamela Sloan, went through the process of adopting a daughter, Cecelia, from foster care nine years ago, when the girl was 6.

"We were asked if we would kiss in front of Cecelia, if we expected her to be gay," Peri Rainbow said. "Would we have enough men in her life? I can't recall the exact questions at this point, but they were quite offensive."

The couple was informed before the adoption was finalized that it would not go through. The stated reason: They had altered legal forms by crossing out the phrases "adoptive mother" and "adoptive father" with "adoptive parents," she said.

"They said we had desecrated legal documentation," Rainbow said.

On the advice of a lawyer, the couple resisted the urge to sue. Instead, Rainbow filed papers to adopt Cecelia. Sloan filed separate adoption papers. They were accepted.

Rainbow and Sloan have already been married in Canada but plan to renew their vows in New York. And they are still raising Cecelia, now 16.

"She's doing very well," Rainbow said. "She's thriving."

The full impact of gay-marriage laws on adoption will probably become clearer over coming decades, as society becomes more gay-friendly and younger couples adopt the familiar patterns of dating, engagement, marriage and child-rearing, said Gates, the demographer.

"Their lives are going to start to look like those of their different-sex counterparts, but that's going to take a while," Gates said.

A 2009 Census Bureau survey showed no evidence of an increase in the percentage of same-sex couples adopting in Massachusetts after that state legalized gay marriage in 2004. But the sample was so small -- only about 100 couples -- that estimates are very imprecise, Gates said. Figures from the 2010 Census should offer a more accurate look.

The Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange, a group that educates families about adopting foster children, said it has seen a rise in the number of same-sex couples seeking information since 2004. They now account for 381 of the 3,360 couples in the group's database, or about 11 percent.

Vincent Russo, a spokesman for Connecticut's probate court system, said judges in that state have noted an increase in same-sex couples adopting since gay marriage was legalized there in 2008.

"Once people were able to marry, they had a bit more security," Russo said. "Once that they have this feeling that, `OK, now that we are a family unit and in this marriage' they feel a little more comfortable, a little more security about adopting children."

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side effects

Ever since news papers have reported about adoption, stories have emerged, detailing how demand for adoptable children exceeds the supply.

The last the world needs is an adoption boom. Adoptionland is just recovering from the Guatemala tragedy and hopefully the Ethiopia boom has finally busted too.

I can understand people wanting equal rights under the law, but I fear, as a side effect, the demand for adoptable children will be fueled. Unfortunately legislators in New York have not pushed for legislation to bring down the demand for adoptable children, to counter act the unintended consequences of their actions.

The adoption industry will be happy to see these new customers, and the surrogacy industry will likely see their profits increase too in the coming years.

I am all for acknowledging people the rights to live their lives the way they choose, but if as a consequence more children need to be stolen and more families are put under pressure to give up their babies because of Western demand, then lawmakers should be bold enough to find ways to bring down that demand across the board.

Demands

One doesn't have to be Adam Pertman to do the math and figure-out an increase in adoptions is good for the adoption industry.

(Why, it's almost as if I close my eyes real tight, I can hear the sound of a "cha-ching" register ring -- it's the sound that will be emanating from the offices where adoption lawyers and directors of private adoption agencies will be conducting their "do-good" business.... all in the best interest of the individual childhildren, of course.)

The bigger question I have is this: if there is going to be an increase in adoptions, does this mean we are going to see an increase in post adoption monitoring, too? [Will extensive adoption studies and statistics, like the rate of abuse in ALL adoptive homes, be collected and studied, too?]

Needs an education drive

One way to counter the demand is an educational drive to LGBT communities. Not to tell people they shouldn't want to adopt, but about the practices of the industry. It will be tricky, especially since we've been fingerwagged-at for generations about how terrible gays are "for the children". If it comes across that way, nobody will listen. I see gay adoption as far less of a problem than heterosexual adoption. That community needs the bulk of an educational drive.

we-don't-want-to-know-mentality

I agree that an educational drive across the board is needed and that is exactly what PPL is about. After having this website online for almost five years, I have come to realize that it's not easy to reach an audience that is adamant not to know. It's not that we lack the information to demonstrate the dark side of adoption, but there certainly is a lack of willingness to learn these things.

There is very little incentive for the public at large to look into the issues surrounding adoption. For many, there are more pressing issues, that usually are more close to home. For those "touched" by adoption, there is much to defend. Many adopters don't want to see how their desire for children inflames the demand for adoptable infants. Many adoptees feel that addressing the dark side of adoption somehow equates disloyalty towards their adoptive family.

Our biggest challenge is not compiling educational material, we actually have plenty of that, but making people want to listen to it. The we-don't-want-to-know mentality is sometimes overwhelming.

It would however be interesting to address the LGBT community. There are of course the tricky aspects you mention, but at the same time there is less of a history to defend. Do you have suggestions what outlets to contact to do this outreach?

I don't

...mainly because I don't run in those circles and don't know anyone who plans to marry and/or adopt -- lol I'd have to cuss somebody out.

But I can brainstorm. You're right, it's very much a "lead a horse to water" situation. I would think it would be the same outreach model for straights, just with the added portion of what you said earlier - to stop confusing child-purchasing like the straights with equality or anything to do with "rights".

This whole idea that US PAPs have some kind of right to adopt is the main issue with both communities, I think. The hardest part is telling a discriminated-against minority community that they should not want the same things others have, whatever it is. That perception, which will be inevitable, I don't know how to get around.

Out of the abstract, already, there is the same issue of white couples adopting kids of color, completely unequipped to parent them (though I believe the story is, many more interracial gay couples adopt than heteros - haven't looked it up, could be incorrect.) That, and the "difficult cases" get placed with the gays, in part to discourage them from adopting in the first place (I did know a guy from the first couple in CA to do so. Difficult story.) There is also an added dimension of PAP martyrdom, oh look at us, it's so difficult for us, but look how dedicated and selfless we are, and whatnot. So already you can see some of the issues with what little history there is.

Lol there is also a lot of cynicism. A student in a class I once TA'd is a performance artist and I saw him in a show a couple months back. I wanted to write about it on PPL but haven't until now. Anyway, he had this stand-up portion with a joke that went like this. He prefaced it with "Ok this one is kind of mean...should I tell it?" Of course he told it.

You know how gay men have a hanky system? Blue hanky means you're into this, red hanky means you do that, light blue hanky for such and such, etc.? Well! I've discovered lesbians have a hanky system, too. Black and yellow hankies.

For the color of the kids they want to adopt! [rimshot]

Worth it to add: he is Asian-American and gay himself. I gave him a round of applause but the joke did elicit some "oooooohs" Rotfl. So yeah, the whole thing is still new and people are still getting used to the idea.

All things being equal in the virtual classroom...

You're right, it's very much a "lead a horse to water" situation. I would think it would be the same outreach model for straights, just with the added portion of what you said earlier - to stop confusing child-purchasing like the straights with equality or anything to do with "rights".

Six years ago I thought if we built this site, people will come, and we'd get the message across. I forgot just how sensitive people can be when others start talking about mothers and families.... and "the right to be ______".

Turns out, so far, very few will openly agree, and publicly state an adoptee has the right to be angry at his/her AP's OR those who pander to the profit-makers within the adoption industry. This opinionated mind-set often (and understandably) remains private/secret because private/secret = safe.

Creating an outreach model that is both positive and critical is pivotal, however, try bringing facts coupled with rational discussion to highly emotionally charged individuals on a mission to have or obtain. It's much like arguing with a crazy person with a memory problem. (And yes, that applies to both sides of any given argument.)

For example, in the past, and in-person, I have made the mistake of discussing the dangers of adoption (and surrogacy) as they are used as a treatment-alternative/solution to infertility. I found I could not get into the many wrongs that go with these practice(s)) because my audience was way too wrapped-up in the emotion of "being without". As a result, I emptied many a room, (and bottle of something, too) thanks to my "insensitivity" and collection of facts. Yes... I admit, at times I can be tough and unyielding when it comes to the plights of the depressed and infertile... I am that way for good reasons.

But with those mistakes, came valuable lessons, too.

Slow-learner that I sometimes am and can be, after a few whispered warnings and "don't-go-there" looks given to me by friends, it dawned on me -- one cannot broach sensitive subjects, like baby/family making a-la adoption, like a bull, and expect the immediate result to look good at the end. These discussions WILL step on toes and they WILL bruise a few egos... and they WILL risk social alienation before the information is received and the over-all message sinks in. (We're talking about tweaking long-held belief systems here!) So, should all the immediate negatives that go with re-education be reason enough to stay silent at the party where so-and-so announces (s)he has photos of the new baby that goes with the paper-pregnancy? Maybe. There is a time and place for everything, including informative outreaches. This is where your average adoption agency comes in, and based on what is shared with me in private, many could use a revamping of their mandatory teaching requirements. Enter the image of me and Niels giving an adoption agency sponsored seminar. Great for the people with a sincere interest; bad for those relying on adoption as their source of income.

I think the most difficult challenge PPL (and like advocates) face is this: Many many people tend to get very sensitive and touchy when matters skirt around their sexual identity and their own capabilities and skills. [Hey...just for kicks, here's a fun quick litmus test to try on your own and in a small group-- mention the word "baby" to someone you know who is infertile or homosexual and in longing. Count how many seconds it takes for the white elephant to enter the room. After that, add the word "adoption"... then watch and hear how that discussion flows. Interesting stuff.] The thing is, I strongly believe people WANT to discuss this stuff; they want to learn all that they can about adoption and scams and what's being to, for, and against other people... but they want to learn and discuss this information in a way that is safe, and not all THAT scary. (I know how I get -- I'm not going to be very receptive to learning if I feel as though I'm being watched and judged... but I'll absorb like a sponge if I'm engaged and having fun.)

So the horse-water analogy is correct, but it is more complex because we can't lead others to drink if they decide they are full; we can't convince another he is thirsty for information that may cause severe headaches and gastric upset.. All we can do is make the water-supply ample and available, and without fake additives. All we can do is believe "if we build it, they will come"... and then hope the next step will be made clear enough to see.

This whole idea that US PAPs have some kind of right to adopt is the main issue with both communities, I think. The hardest part is telling a discriminated-against minority community that they should not want the same things others have, whatever it is. That perception, which will be inevitable, I don't know how to get around.

Ditto... although now that the EU is trying to get into all that is ICA, the war between rights and wrongs and the battle of betters has gotten far more interesting. As if the argument over which religious denomination is the most abusive and corrupt weren't enough.... now we can bear witness to the battle over which country produces the best parents for orphans-to-be. [See: Italians make best parents for adopted Indian children ] Ah, the growing insanity continues....

There is one other obstacle I can't quite get around. There seems to be this stigma that says if one is critical, one must be "anti" or "against". I find this negative stereotyping is very common in Adoptionland, and it makes matters much worse when trying to voice and discuss some of the more critical adoption issues plaguing both parents and children.

So... how does a person who wants to advocate the needs of the next generation and teach others how to re-think the adoption-option rise above stereotypes and ignorance? With a grain of salt, or a very large bottle of scotch? I have both... I think.

You already know this but

There is one other obstacle I can't quite get around. There seems to be this stigma that says if one is critical, one must be "anti" or "against". I find this negative stereotyping is very common in Adoptionland, and it makes matters much worse when trying to voice and discuss some of the more critical adoption issues plaguing both parents and children.

You already know this but I might as well say it out loud. The more PPL grows the less people will be able to fall back on that kneejerk reaction.

To me, the goal is not to stop adoption or care, the goal is to stop more cases filling up the pages of PPL. Period. Doesn't matter what demographic the parents are. So the challenge to Kneejerk Adoptionland is: what are any of them doing to stop it?

i know it's not that simplistic - if it were, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But I agree with you -- at some point, people are going to have to deal with their complicity beyond a little cognitive dissonance. I do think a lot of this may be American entitlement issues, which are kind of infamous. Imo, a lot of our ideas about "rights" themselves center on the "right" to the acquisition of things (including people - our entire economy was once based on it.) It's deeply ingrained and not easily shaken.

Re: sexuality, we're operating in a society where the government told married couples they could not use birth control, criminalized certain sex acts up until 8 years ago, and has an ugly history of forced sterilization as well as forced childbirth. The government used to be able to tell people what race they could or could not marry. So gays definitely aren't the first or only people to be repressed and have all manner of social crap thrown at us.

But gay marriage is still new, and also still illegal in many states. At the federal level, it's illegal for it to be recognized. Despite the social and legal advances, every day there is some asswagon on television or youtube reminding the planet of our innate moral inferiority. It's still conventional wisdom, even in the most "liberal" circles, that opposite sex parents are superior to same sex ones. So I would say the "threat" of gay adoption -- i.e. some of the cases in PPL being gay parents -- is a ways off. There is time to hone the message.

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