One little girl, her two dads, and whether that’s such a bad thing

[Cross-posted at OT]

The topic of Same-Sex Marriage has bounced around the bloggernacle so much it has taken on a universally-recognized acronym. The topic of gay adoption has received much less attention, and, as far as I know, has elicited little (or no?) specific ecclesiastical counsel (unless one counts Sheri Dew’s controversial speech, which was delivered after her tenure in the Relief Society General Presidency — and which, incidentally, was recently removed from the Meridian website.) I don’t have any eloquent doctrinal arguments or child-welfare statistics to posit, but I do have a story to share, one that I think speaks for itself.

Two little girls, whom I will call Tuyen and Xuan, were both taken into an orphanage in Vietnam shortly after birth. The staff cared for them as best they could, given their limited resources, hygiene was substandard and the babies often slept side-by-side, several to a crib. Around the time of the girls’ first birthday an adoption agency brought a group of several prospective parents to the orphanage. It was a diverse bunch: a single, middle-aged woman, first-time adopters, couples wishing to expand their families. Also included in the group were a devout young Mormon couple (whom I know personally, and who allowed me to post this) and a gay couple. Tuyen went with the Mormon couple, and was later sealed to them in the D.C. temple; Xuan left the orphanage with her two new dads.

Before heading back to the states, however, it took the parents a couple of weeks to submit the health and governmental forms and receive all the bureaucratic approvals required to complete the adoption, so while they waited for forms to be processed the adoptive parents and their new children did lots of sightseeing. Tuyen’s mom and Xuan’s dads turned out to be naturally inclined towards group organization, and took charge of the sightseeing itinerary and shopping trips (it’s a terrible stereotype, I know, the shopaholic woman and the gay guys telling each other how fabulous their purchases are, etc., but that’s how it happened). The Mormons and the gay men became fast friends during the trip, and the friendship continued after they returned to their respective homes. Even though they live several hours apart, the two families still visit each other on occasion to celebrate their girls’ birthdays, their adoption anniversary, and American and Vietnamese holidays.

While I find that friendship in and of itself quite heartwarming (and believe me, I get a lot of mileage out of it when friends or associates categorically accuse Mormons of homophobia), other circumstances lend this story even more poignancy. Shortly after Xuan and Tuyen left Vietnam for America with their new parents, the U.S. government discontinued allowing adoptions from Vietnam. This prohibition remains in place today, largely because of bureaucratic inertia on both sides, and there are no signs of progress. This has created a grave situation for orphanages in Vietnam, as their meager operating budgets relied on adoption fees; the orphanage where Xuan and Tuyen lived has fallen into disrepair and is in desperate need of financial aid. More somber still is the future that the little girls in the orphanage face today if the adoption ban continues as they become children and eventually adolescents; if you follow the news, you probably have an idea of the bleak prospects for an orphaned teenaged girl in Vietnam. I shudder to think, but these are the questions that this situation begs: what if the gay couple hadn’t gone to Vietnam and adopted? What if Tuyen had gone home with the Mormon couple but her friend Xuan had been left behind in the orphanage as the adoption ban had taken effect, and had stayed there as she approached adolescence? Regardless of what you might think about gay adoption as a political issue — and I’m talking about an actual situation and an actual person, so it’s not really a political issue anyway — are there any grounds on which to argue that this happy, healthy little girl would have been better off if her dads hadn’t been able to adopt her?

Comments

  1. “I think it would be grand to have the Proclamation on the Family be a public document”

    Council of Fifty flashback, Council of Fifty flashback. Who’s going to anoint and crown GBH as King of the world?

  2. “Political conservatives often strike me as essentially egotistical — incapable of empathizing with the plight of others because they somehow lack the imagination to feel what others might be going through. Or, even if they can, they just don’t care.”

    I think what JN was trying to say was that Durkee is painting with a fairly wide brush here. I’m inclined to agree. Perhaps I am misinterpreting him/her. If I’m not, that’s a silly statement.

  3. “The girl would have been adopted by a traditional family if the same-sex couple wasn’t in line for the adoption.

    That’s the point in this particular case: no she wouldn’t have, because shortly after her adoption Vietnamese adoptions were prohibited.”

    Acutally, no, that does not work. The same-sex couple got to adopt the girl presumably because they were first in line at that particular moment of couples wanting to adopt. If not for the same-sex couple, the net family in line would have adopted her.

    I admit my understanding of this process could be completely wrong, but all the adoptions I’ve read about work this way, because there are more parents wanting to adopt than there are children ready for adoption.

  4. At the risk of conjuring up an imaginary enemy, it seems safe to assume that, sadly, there probably are some people who would rather see a girl forced into prostitution than raised in a loving home with gay or lesbian parents.

    I don’t think you have created an imaginary enemy. I hope that few people think that way, but, undoubtedly, they are out there.

  5. I do not mean to equate the circumstances between his and my example.

    Sure, you ostensibly don’t mean to equate, but the damage is already done — you’re saying that the situation I describe and the one you describe are both on the far side of a line that shouldn’t be crossed. What else is on that side? What else should be? Really crappy hetero parents?

    Reductio ad absurdum, with emphasis on the absurdum.

  6. in the real world the choice isn’t between an ideal set of parents and a less-than-ideal set… it’s often between a less-than-ideal set and no set at all

    And of course, it should go without saying (even though it often doesn’t) that the border between “ideal” and “less-than-ideal” runs a zigzag course along the border between “traditional” and “non-traditional” parental situations. One doesn’t have to look far to find lousy hetero parents; I haven’t met them, but from what I’m told, “Xuan’s” dads are remarkable parents.

  7. Once you acknowledge shades of gray in one issue, it opens up the can of worms that gray might exist in other issues.

    Sucks to be in a fallen state, don’t it?

  8. The girl would have been adopted by a traditional family if the same-sex couple wasn’t in line for the adoption.

    That’s the point in this particular case: no she wouldn’t have, because shortly after her adoption Vietnamese adoptions were prohibited.

  9. And of course, there are more little girls waiting in the orphanage.

  10. At the risk of conjuring up an imaginary enemy, it seems safe to assume that, sadly, there probably are some people who would rather see a girl forced into prostitution than raised in a loving home with gay or lesbian parents.

    For such people, it’s a matter of principle first: compassion comes second.

    And of course they’re wrong to prioritize things that way. Political conservatives often strike me as essentially egotistical — incapable of empathizing with the plight of others because they somehow lack the imagination to feel what others might be going through. Or, even if they can, they just don’t care.

    I heard once that one of the essential differences between people and animals is the ability to empathize. What does that say about conservatives, then, whose powers of empathy are so poor? (Jeez, I sound as shrewish as Arianna Huffington.)

    What conservatives do care about, however, is the preservation of abstract (and perhaps unfounded) ideals like heterosexual parenting, even if it’s at the very grave expense of many others. It’s no skin off their nose to leave orphans to their own ends so long as the principle they believe in so earnestly is not trespassed.

    However, perhaps what most strikes me about your story is that shouldn’t something more be done to re-open Vietnamese orphanages to American adoptions?

  11. Aaron Brown says:

    Great story that raises an important issue: Even if we grant that a two-parent, heterosexual couple is the ideal, and that a straight couple would be inherently superior to a gay couple in the parental role (based on whatever criteria you choose), in the real world the choice isn’t between an ideal set of parents and a less-than-ideal set… it’s often between a less-than-ideal set and no set at all. How do we take that simple fact into account when we think about adoption?

    Your story is compelling in that it forces us to confront that question.

    Aaron B

  12. Tuyen's dad says:

    I am “Tuyen’s” dad, and I wasn’t planning on weighing in, but I do want to address Matt Evans’ speculation that: It is probably Vietnam that is refusing American adoptive couples, and not America that is refusing Vietnamese adoptees.

    No, not really. For two years, the State Dept and their Vietnamese counterparts and have been dickering over the language of an agreement that would prevent the trade of “black market babies.”

    Obviously, this is a worthy goal. But I think it’s safe to say that if any of the bureaucrats involved actually felt any sense of urgency, they could have come to a resolution months ago.

    (One of the things I learned during our trip to Vietnam is that a bureaucrat is a bureaucrat, regardless of whether they come from a communist or capitalist system. We spent three weeks in Saigon…two days jumping through Vietnamese hoops and two weeks jumping through American hoops…and along the way all of the bureaucrats–American or Vietnamese–treated us like annoyances.)

    BTW, my wife (and “Tuyen,” who is now 3) returned to Vietnam yesterday with the couple who facilitated our adoption (and the three Vietnamese children they adopted). There they will spend three weeks providing aid to the now over-crowded orphanage where Tuyen and Xuan spent the first seven months of their lives. I plan to join them next week. We hope that, with the video footage and photos we’ll bring home, we can get some media coverage, raise awareness, and put some pressure on the State Department to raise this issue a few notches higher on their priority list.

  13. I don’t see a lot of controversy in this. As far as I know, the Church’s position on this issue is surprisingly moderate. (On a related issue, in California where I live, the Church strongly supported Proposition 22, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. The Church pointedly did not and does not oppose legislation that would create civil unions.) The Proclamation on the Family sets forth ideals. It seems pretty clear that the ideal is for each child to have a mother and a father. For the Vietnamese babies in your story, the ideal was not possible.

  14. I feel like I have to be the voice of reconciliation here. I think it really is unfair to paint conservatives as uniformly in favor of principle over compassion. I’ve had plenty of conversations with conservatives over hypothetical situations similar to this real one where they are torn and admittedly conflicted over the implications of gay adoption bans. The fact of the matter is, it is a tough issue, and we would be better off discussing it while free to explore all implications, rather than shutting off certain voices because of their political persuasion.

    As an adoptee myself, this is one issue in which I wish we could get past partisan politics and try to creatively craft solutions to reduce the number of children suffering as unwanted–whether that means promoting birth control or encouraging adoption, easing up restrictions on international adoptions, or finding incentives to place children in loving homes whatever they might look like.

  15. I reject the story in this post as being inspirational or moving, but accept the principle that Homosexual adoption isn’t terrible.

    The girl would have been adopted by a traditional family if the same-sex couple wasn’t in line for the adoption. There is no shortage of traditional families looking to adopt.

    However, I can’t see how a law barring homosexual adoption would be particularly useful.

    Take a case where a single parent decides to adopt. How would you prove that he is or is not gay?

    Or how about a situation where an existing parent decides to become gay? Would you take away their children? I don’t think so.

  16. Jeremy, thanks. You have given me pause, and possible reason to change some of my thinking on this issue.

  17. Jeremy:

    Seeing the complexity of this issue would imply that there’s shades of gray in the world instead of just black and white. Once you acknowledge shades of gray in one issue, it opens up the can of worms that gray might exist in other issues. I think that’s what makes people uncomfortable in going down that road.

  18. JN, I don’t think Durkee was offensive — nor do I think you’re being egotistical, necessarily. Durkee’s point (and em can speak for em’s self) was that a tendency to place principle in front of compassion is egotistical.

    What you’re talking about is fundamentally different, I think, from Durkee’s example.

  19. Lyle,

    Do you refuse to see the complexity of this issue when it plays out in an actual life? Is there not, in the Proclamation and/or elsewhere in Standard Works, an explicit or at least implied “Let’s keep teenaged orphan girls off of the streets of of the red light district in Saigon, no matter what,” that might trump the “no two dads” rule?

  20. Matt, I think you’ve well illustrated how Jeremy’s situation is problematic. Clearly, as mormons we don’t have to necessarily feel comfortable with homosexual couples adopting children.

    Your post, while illustrative, primarily illustrates how grey the whole mess becomes when the wrong you’re avoiding and the wrong you’re choosing begin to approach each other. It doesn’t, however, help us solve the conundrum at hand very well.

  21. Measure,
    Although I don’t have first-hand knowledge (I’m relying on what a social worker friend of mine told me), you’re premise that the child would have been adopted by the next in line doesn’t always work (I don’t know if it would have worked in this situation or not).

    She tells me that same-sex couples are more willing to adopt HIV-positive children and other children who are more difficult to place (she gave specific examples, but it’s been three years since we had this conversation). I have to agree that, _even if_ we consider same-sex parents (or single parents, or any other non-traditional familial structure) suboptimal, I can see no way in which a loving parent or two is worse than living in an orphanage/hospital/whatever.

  22. No…Durkee was probably thinking of folks like me; since I don’t have any problem whatsoever in supporting public policies that maximize 1 dad/1 mom families & prevent gay parents from adopting. I think it would be grand to have the Proclamation on the Family be a public document…it was written to the world, not just the Saints. Now, why was that?

  23. Oh my heart.

    I am so sorry that the adoptions ceased.

    Is there any group seeking to get that pathway opened again?

    That seems to me to be a righteous endeavor well deserving of attention.

  24. Sam B, Your example of the HIV-Positive children has opened my eyes to same-sex adoptions in a way the original post did not.

    As I said in my first post on this thread, I cannot concieve of a good rule that would bar same-sex adoptions.

    Now I also see that in some situations, there are going to be children that would have a greater chance of being adopted because of the same-sex couples. And so I shockingly (to myself) now fully support same-sex couples adopting.

    But how am I going to find a political party that 1-Opposes Some liberal causes (such as 3rd trimester abortions), 2-Supports other liberal causes (such as same-sex couple adoptions), 3-Understands that tax relief for the wealthy creates more jobs and therefore helps poor americans (like myself), and 4-Has a chance of actually having their candidates elected? Crap… Maybe I’ll just abstain from voting.

    Seriously, though, if anybody knows who I should vote for based on the criteria listed above, shoot me an email.

  25. Stephen,

    It is probably Vietnam that is refusing American adoptive couples, and not America that is refusing Vietnamese adoptees. I investigated international adoption for about a year and never encountered American rules against adopting from particular countries.

    It is common, however, for countries to prohibit Americans from adopting. If you look at trends in international adoptions, there are huge swings in the originating countries depending on their attitude toward America. Most governments are reluctant to allow Americans to “save” their children, being embarrassed to admit they aren’t able to care for their own. Despite the huge number of AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, few of them are eligible for adoption by Americans for this reason.

    Romania allowed 2500 American adoptions in 1991, but only 121 the following year. China, by contrast, only allowed 61 American adoptions in 1991, but by 2002 was allowing over 5000. Those huge swings are the effect of changing Romanian and Chinese policies, not the adoption policies of the US government.

  26. Thank you for sharing this story.

  27. Thanks for this information, Dad of Tuyen.

    It’s is very discouraging to know that after the many attempts to simplify the adoption process, it’s still a boondoggle.

    I read an article by Rep. Chris Smith and Sen. Arlen Specter that said something like 40% of adoptive parents have complained to their congressman about the red tape.

    Most people would probably be shocked to learn that, given Americans’ willingness and the children’s enormous needs, US families adopt only 15,000 international kids each year. No African country allowed more than 60 American adoptions last year.

    May you have every success in raising awareness of the need for reforms, and every success in raising Tuyen!

  28. This is a perfect example of the maxim “hard cases make bad laws.”

    The structure of the argument is:

    1. Bans against this sort of adoption has the unintended consequence of leaving more orphans in Vietnam.

    2. Some orphans in Vietnam are forced into prostitution.

    3. Therefore, bans against this sort of adoption are wrong.

    This argument structure is rhetorically powerful but invalid. The conclusion does not follow from the premises because severe unintended consequences aren’t dispostive. We accept negative unintended consequences all of the time.

    We have instituted many laws that have, as unintended consequences, the effect of causing more children to die. An unintended consequence of bans on child slavery is to diminish the demand for living, healthy children. Were we to allow orphans to be sold into slavery, some of the orphaned children in the Sudan would be purchased and sent to work. Because we have forbidden child slavery, however, some of those children are instead dying and losing limbs in genocidal clashes.

    Despite the fact that slavery bans result in some Sudanese orphans losing their limbs or lives, many people still support prohibitions against child slavery.

    Now, to parallel the structure of Jeremy’s example, if someone purchased a Sudanese child for slave labor last year, today we could express our gratitude for pro-slavery laws that allowed the little orphan to leave the Sudan before the genocide began and her life and limbs were at risk. We could then ridicule those who support anti-slavery on principle by asking them if it’s worse for the girl to be a slave in the charge of a benevolent master than to be quartered in a genocidal purge. And where’s their compassion?

    (I use the example of slavery only to show clearly that the Jeremy’s conclusion does not follow necessarily from his premises. I do not mean to equate the circumstances between his and my example.)

  29. Tuyen’s dad –

    Thanks.

    I’d like to see a website/blog and the possibility of a PAC, etc.

    I’m trying to think of the best advocacy vehicle actually, but would be interested in contributing, etc. (But not adopting. I’ve got all I can handle on my plate that way).

    Thanks!

  30. Welcome back lyle!

  31. Wow. Durkee, that was quite offensive…

    I consider myself a political conservative, and I am not opposed to gay adoption at all. Obviously, a heterosexual, two-parent home is the ideal and any other arrangement is less than ideal by varying degrees. I think gay adoption is quite acceptable, as is single-parent adoption, because either choice is likely to be better than leaving a child without parents. I believe that, all things being equal, married couples should be given first priority over gay unions or single parents.

    Is that egotistical?

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