How Safe are Children Adopted by Gay Married Couples?

The accused
The accused | Source

The news headline

Gay Connecticut couple accused of raping adopted children will face trial

Whenever we see a shocking headline, there's a tendency to panic, and to jump onto whichever bandwagon claims to "do something" about the problem.

Even when that bandwagon remedy puts people at greater risk than they'd be without it. This was certainly the case for the aftermath of that other shocking event from Connecticut--the one that happened in December of 2012.

It is possible to arrive at rational responses that minimize the risks in question, without creating side-effects that are worse than the original problem. In this hub, we'll examine the issue of child safety in adoptions by married gay couples.

At the moment, we do not have enough information to prevent the kind of shocking events that allegedly happened to innocent adopted children in Connecticut. Without more data, the best we can do right now is to ask the right questions about child welfare in general, about gay marriage, and about equality under the law.

I'm not a lawyer. That said, my layman's understanding of adoption rules is that married couples who wish to adopt are given a higher priority than single people wishing to adopt. Other things being equal, of course. This is understandable.

Suppose that there's a medical emergency at school. If one parent was not near a telephone, the school and hospital administrators could contact the other parent, and authorize necessary emergency medical treatment as soon as possible.

But now there's a new development. Legal recognition of gay and lesbian marriage is already established in several states, and is likely to be approved in several other states soon. Perhaps we should rethink our adoption rules.

Do you feel that gay married couples wishing to adopt a child should be on an equal footing with married straight couples?

  • Yes.
  • No, married straight couples should have a higher priority.
See results without voting

Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment

"no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The real question

Are gay adoptive couples more likely to abuse their adopted children than straight adoptive couples?

Since I am not a Conservative, I do not have an instant answer to this question. However it could be settled by sociological research.

Suppose that the answer turns out to be yes. Then we should give straight married couples wishing to adopt a higher priority than gay married couples. Then traditional marriage would have a slightly higher legal standing than gay marriage.

This may run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of our beleaguered U.S. Constitution. But the safety of adopted children is more important than the Politically Correct albeit unproven assumption that the gender orientation of adoptive parents has no bearing on the safety of adopted children.

I'm not gay bashing here. I have no doubt that some gay men make excellent parents. On the other hand, a small minority of straight couples do abuse their adopted children. Realistically, there's no way to guarantee that any given adopted child will NOT be abused, no matter how thorough the background investigation. It's more reasonable to be concerned about the probabilities than to demand absolute certainty, or to duck the issue entirely.

For whatever it's worth, my educated guess is that it's far worse for most orphaned or abandoned children to grow up in an institutional setting than to be adopted by loving couples who happen to be either gay or lesbian. This hub is not an answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. It's about tweaking adoption regulations to minimize the likelihood of abuse by adoptive parents.


What about lesbian couples?

This is a smaller concern for me, because it did not come up in the news story. But yes, we should also do sociological studies of married lesbian couples who adopt children. I would not be surprised if married lesbian couples made better adoptive parents than married gay couples.

In the near future, rational, informed adoption policies may need to make distinctions among all three classes of marriage.


Don't Ask

Let's keep Big Brother out of our bedrooms. It is not reasonable for the government to ask a single person, who intends to adopt a child, about his or her gender orientation. However that orientation will become apparent when a married couple applies to adopt one or more children.

If research in the near future shows there really is a child safety consideration here, then government officials should be willing to put Political Correctness aside, and to do the right thing for the sake of the adopted children.


Rainbow flag, a symbol of tolerance.
Rainbow flag, a symbol of tolerance. | Source

How does this affect gay marriage

The rationale for the legal recognition of gay and lesbian marriages is equality under the law. There are a number of legal benefits of marriage. Here are two of them.

Inheritance. If one spouse dies intestate, the other spouse will get a portion of the estate, after the lawyers duke it out in court, and take their cut. On the other hand, a boyfriend or girlfriend is most likely to end up with zippo.

The ex-wife of a neighbor took care of him while he was dying. However he did not amend his will to include her. Despite her selfless efforts, she inherited nothing.

Medical decisions. Suppose that you do not have a Living Will, or give Durable Power of Attorney to anyone. Then you find yourself in a persistent vegetative state. If you're single, the physicians call the shots.

On the other hand, if you're married, it is assumed that your spouse is aware of your final wishes. Then after receiving the appropriate medical information, he or she is in a better position to make that determination than the doctors.

Why should the legal benefits of marriage apply only to straight couples? That's a powerful argument for legal recognition of gay and lesbian marriage.

One of the main reasons why we recognize marriage in the first place is for the welfare of children. However future sociological research may show that adopted children would be slightly safer if we made a few legal distinctions among the three classes of monogamous marriage.


Virgina McMartin
Virgina McMartin | Source
Illustration of Salem witch trials.
Illustration of Salem witch trials. | Source

But first let's gather those pesky facts

My academic background is in analytical chemistry. One of the big take-home lessons was that ALL measurements--as opposed to counting--have some degree of uncertainty. In other words, there's no such thing as an 'exact science'.

When sociologists study the relative safety of children in the various types of monogamous marriages, they will need to come to grips with the two sources of error inherent in this type of sociological research.

First, there's sampling error. The true abuse rates may be somewhat greater than or somewhat less than the rates in the samples. The way to minimize sampling error is to have large sample sizes.

And that means spending more money on the studies.

Second, there will be some inaccuracies in the reports made by the adopted children. A few of the children will confuse nightmares stemming from abuse by previous foster parents with the good care provided by the current adoptive parents.

'Recovered' memories are another source of inaccuracy. Overly zealous therapists (and police) encourage children to make false statements. The few children who make stuff up are basically trying to conform to the expectations of the authority figures. Over time, they may even acquire some degree of belief in their false accusations. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about the long McMartin preschool witch hunt--I mean trial--of the 1980s, which produced zero criminal convictions.

Shades of the Salem Witch Trials in 17th Century Massachusetts. Fortunately, nobody was executed in the McMartin Case. However one innocent man did spend 5 years in jail, because the wheels of justice turned too slowly. End of digression.

A few children will deliberately fabricate stories of abuse. Why? They may have an intense personality clash with their stepfather, or with one of their adoptive parents.

Or foster children may be unhappy about the fact that their foster parents make them do their homework assignments every night. The strategy: Roll the dice, and hope for more permissive foster or adoptive parents the next time around. Such deliberate fabrications are quite rare.

So much for the false positives. There are also 'false negatives'. Some victims don't understand how the system works. They are afraid that their abusive parents, adoptive parents, or foster parents will kill them if they step forward.

The sociological researchers may make the reasonable assumption that the proportion of inaccuracies in the statistics for the three groups of children will be constant, but that small sample sizes may skew the results.

The solution? Again, spend more money.

Have larger sample sizes. And whenever possible, be certain that the interviewers are reasonably objective, and are not pursuing personal agendas.

There have been some preliminary sociological studies on gay and lesbian couples, and their children. A sample of these studies is reported in reason.com, which has a Libertarian frame of reference. None of these studies reported disastrous consequences for the typical child. However these studies did not focus on the statistics of child abuse, which occurs infrequently in marriages of all kinds in developed Western countries.

The Science on Same-Sex Marriage

A round up of studies on same-sex marriage, divorce, children, and monogamy.

Ronald Bailey | April 5, 2013

Read the article here.


Tentative conclusion

Most of the time, strict equality under the law is a good thing. For things like inheritance and medical decisions, straight marriages, gay marriages, and lesbian marriages should all be equivalent.

But depending on the results of the studies that I'm proposing, it may be possible to have too much of a good thing. And that could put some adopted children at risk.

The law makes a distinction between rights and privileges. The driver's license is an example of the latter. In the interest of public safety, people who have multiple DUI convictions have no business being behind the wheel.

Adoption falls somewhere in between a right and a privilege. Adopted children have a right not to be abused. Child welfare always trumps the interests of prospective adoptive parents. In the interests of adopted children, government policy makers attempt to rank the various categories of prospective adoptive parents.

Some of these determinations are controversial. Example: At one time, interracial adoption was frowned upon--rightly or wrongly.

Depending on future sociological research, married straight adoptive parents may turn out to provide safer environments than married gay adoptive parents. If so, that should be reflected in the rankings.

Copyright 2013 by Larry Fields



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Comments 13 comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

Hi Larry, I don't know about the case you mentioned but it did get me thinking about what you are saying. to be honest I am totally stuck in the middle on this, I do think a married couple should automatically have the right to adopt etc, and gay couples should be given the chance too, but I think two women together would be fine to have kids, but two men? I think it really does all depend on the guys in question, or am I wrong? I am just confused, but you make great points here, nell


Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 3 years ago from Northern California Author

Hi Nell,

Nice to hear from you, as always.

The shocking headline was intended to be a conversation starter, rather than a conversation stopper. There are a lot of hubs that argue for or against some point of view on a particular political or social issue.

But it's difficult to write a hub that lays out some of the considerations, and then comes to the conclusion that we need more information. Some readers may assume that I'm a 'stealth advocate'.

Others may feel that I'm a wimp for not having an strong opinion on the subject. That would be closer to the mark. I definitely believe in evidence-based social and environmental policies. Even when they're not Politically Correct.


Diane Van Hook profile image

Diane Van Hook 3 years ago from CT

I think that this particular couple fell through the cracks of the system. From what I understand, there's a frankly thorough and extensive investigation into anyone looking to adopt children. I don't think the collective genders of the couple matter, so long as their conduct in raising the child is constructive and beneficial.

Having an opinion, or a lack of one is entirely subjective. Individuals are entitled to their own thoughts. I agree with you that there should be studies done to form social statistics, but I don't think these statistics should dictate law or be used an excuse to deny same gender couples from adopting, that just makes it a cop out.

Child welfare is the priority here. That is a definite. There's a reason that there's a system in place to protect the children, but it also falls down to the people in charge of adoptions, and how much integrity that they have, or do they let prejudice or greed influence them.


Anjili profile image

Anjili 3 years ago from planet earth, a humanoid

Hi Larry,

I wrote an article on gay marriages which was later banished by the gay community from Hubpages. I strongly feel one should forget about children if you fall in this class. Adopted children are always prone to abuse if one is not attached to them through blood links and parenting.

Their reasoning is that "After all, they are not my relatives"

Yours is a sensitive topic. I'm counting the number of days this Hub will remain up and running. Take care.


Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 3 years ago from Northern California Author

Hi Anjili,

Thanks for your comment. I'm not coming from a religious perspective on this issue. The news story presented an angle on the gay marriage question that I had not considered before. Depending on future sociological research, full parity of gay marriage vis-à-vis traditional marriage in the area of adoption may turn out not to be a great idea. But at the moment, I do not have enough facts to form a strong opinion. Just sayin'.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

I don't think you're a whimp, I think you're taking the reasonable stance. In the natural order of things married couples are usually the first choice for adoption then single people, but now we have added gay and lesbian couples into the mix. Is any one of these better than the other? It certainly depends on the people not their circumstance. I agree more money has to be spent but I believe it is in research on the adoptive couple (or single person) and follow-up after the adoption. I was adopted and my brother was adopted, fortunately for us, by great, wonderful and loving people. THEY are my Mom & Dad, but I know not everyone is as lucky as I was, however, they should be! So I believe the emphasis should not so much on sexual orientation but on the capabilities, soundness of mind, and love shown by the adoptive parents.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 3 years ago from Northern California Author

Hi Mary,

Thanks for sharing your experience, and for your vote of confidence.


mbuggieh 2 years ago

Parenting skill is not a function of sexual orientation and neither is a propensity to abuse children.

In fact, scientific studies---replicated again and again, show that children raised by gay/lesbian parents to, in fact, to do better in term of socio-psychological and cognitive development than their peers raised by heterosexual couples.

And the fact is that there no scientific evidence to suggest that gay or lesbian parents (biological or adoptive) are more likely to abuse a child than a heterosexual parent.


Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 22 months ago from Northern California Author

Hi mbuggieh,

The point that you raise about scientific studies (plural) is interesting. Could you name one of them, and post a link?

About the " . . . no scientific evidence . . ." Some scientists are fond of a little game, called Statistical Significance. When the evidence does not rise to this level, they tell porkies to the lay press. "Insufficient evidence" translates into "no evidence" when they are dealing with the Great Unwashed.


Sanxuary 22 months ago

One can claim choice to live a certain life style but why does one get a choice that they have given up to make another choice? Why should they be entitled to have children when they decided on a life style that denies them of reproduction?


Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 22 months ago from Northern California Author

Hi Sanxuary,

Thanks for stopping by. Please pardon my stating the obvious. But your rhetorical question could apply in another situation.

A man and a woman fall in love, and get married. The woman has a medical problem that prevents her from bearing children. Would that medical condition be sufficient reason to deny the couple the right to adopt children?

If not, then what about a gay or Lesbian couple? In general, I am skeptical of double standards. In the hub, my main concern is that children are placed in the safest possible home.


Kylyssa profile image

Kylyssa 14 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

I think it's too soon to say for certain, but I'd lay money on same sex parents being no more likely or less likely to abuse their children than opposite sex parents. The numbers on domestic partner violence for same sex couples are similar (only a couple percentage points lower and slightly less severe in nature) to the domestic partner violence rates for opposite sex couples, so it seems logical other domestic abuse percentages would be similar.

www.rohrbaughassociates.net/pdfs/same_sex.pdf gives some interesting info on domestic parter violence among same sex couples.


Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 14 months ago from Northern California Author

Hello, Kylyssa. Yes, the domestic violence statistics are interesting and relevant. One possible interpretation is that in same-sex couples, the potential for violence is more symmetric, and because of that, bullying is less likely. Thanks for stopping by!

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