Playing Politics at the Expense of Children

BlogHer Original Post

adopt a child floatFile this one under cheap election year politics (even if it’s not quite election year, the gentlemen have started their engines).

Arizona has passed a new law directing child welfare professionals to favor married couples over singles or unmarried couples (code for same-sex couples, really) in child placement decisions whether adoption or foster care, "if all other factors are equal."

I call cheap election year politics for a couple of reasons:

First, the law doesn’t really do much. It doesn’t end placements of children with single or unmarried parents; it simply directs that preference be given to a married couple, all other things being equal. Considering that this probably already happens most of the time (it’s called heterosexual privilege and even if you’re straight, if you’re single, you have less of it than married couples), the law probably won’t change much in reality.

Second, bill sponsor Rep. Judy Burges, R-Skull Valley invoked “the good Lord and Mother Nature," suggesting that particular heterosexual pairing is the reason why married, straight parents are best. Seeing as the good Lord’s exact identity (are we talking a Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu or other version of the “Lord?”), opinion on family formation (if we stick to the Bible alone we get a wildly diverse answer to that query) and very existence in the first place (presumably there are at least a couple of atheists in Arizona) is debatable, I can only assume that Burges is really just talking to a certain group of voters when she grandstands about the danger to the family of foster children getting, um, families (of the wrong sort).

The saddest thing about this is not that it slaps families that veer from the hetero-norm (and again, I mean straight, single parents too, when I say that) in the face. It’s not even the fact that it maintains and encourages the marginalization of children growing up in those kinds of families, however it disingenuously purports to be in their best interest.

The saddest thing about this is what it does to families in the middle of the child welfare system, from whatever perspective. It puts up yet another barrier to the already nearly insuperable ones to permanency for children in foster care. It puts another hoop in front of good parents looking to welcome a child into their families. As Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff argued against the bill, there are more children waiting to be adopted than there are parents ready to adopt them.

But given that the law applies to all adoptions -- including private agency adoptions -- not just those from foster care, it takes choices away from parents looking for adoptive families for their children. If you’re a woman looking to place your child in adoption in Arizona, you now can’t choose a single person or a gay couple until all the married people on your agency's waiting list have babies.

People who propose and vote for these laws typically have very little working knowledge of how child welfare actually works -- or they just don’t care for all the hot air they blow about the best interest of children. Not only is there a shortage of people willing to step up and adopt or foster a certain population of children, “all other factors” are really never “equal.”

The reality is, different families (and I include single women and their dogs within the definition of "family") offer different pros and cons to the children they might raise. A single mom might have less money over the long haul than a married couple. But she might have an incredible group of creative, energetic friends to become surrogate aunts and uncles to her child, enriching that child’s life beyond anything mere money could buy. A same-sex couple will have societal and legal discrimination to face, but their children may grow up with a stronger sense of self and more compassion for difference than they would need in a more typical family.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of hetero-normative families that have little going for them but patriarchal tradition and legal approbation.

But I guess Judy Burges's version of the Good Lord and Mother Nature would rather see families made of patriarchal tradition and law than of love, strength and compassion.

Mind you, I mean to cast no shade on those families that happen to fall into the more typical category. I know plenty of great ones (I grew up in one), but they are hardly all perfect, or even functional. Everyone knows this. There is also more than enough information out there about the relative chances for people raised in foster care and/or group homes versus people raised in a stable, healthy version of whatever family form to draw the conclusion that we need to be expanding the options for kids without families, not limiting them in ways that have nothing but an ideological motivation--let alone a crass, political one.

 

Shannon writes about family at Peter's Cross Station and about writing at Muse of Fire.

Photo Credit: sadsnaps.

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