April 20, 2013

Adoptions also at stake in gay-marriage decision

How the high court rules on DOMA and Prop 8 will affect children as well as gay and lesbian adults.

By DAVID CRARY The Associated Press

NEW YORK - The White House told the Supreme Court it favored same-sex marriage. So did dozens of big corporations, a host of political and legal heavyweights -- and 9-year-old Austin Covey.

click image to enlarge

Kevin Covey, center left, and his husband, Joseph, stand with their twin 9-year-old sons Austin, left, and Dakota in Newport Beach, Calif. The federal government doesn’t recognize the men’s marriage under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, under review by the Supreme Court.

The Associated Press

"My dads take the best care of me and my brother," Austin said in one of the many legal briefs submitted to court. "My family is no different than any other family."

In fact, his California family is different from most. Austin's fathers, Joseph and Kevin Covey, are legally married. Yet because it's a same-sex union, the federal government doesn't recognize it under provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, now under review by the Supreme Court.

But is such a marriage also different in ways that disadvantage children?

Justice Antonin Scalia suggested as much in oral arguments last month, when the Supreme Court considered DOMA and California's same-sex marriage statute.

"If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples," Scalia said, "you must permit adoption by same-sex couples. There's considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not."

Actually, though there are some dissenters who say that research is not definitive -- and some states block gay couples form jointly adopting children -- there's a broad consensus among major medical, psychological and child-welfare organizations that children raised by gay and lesbian parents fare just as well as those raised by straight parents.

Scalia's comments angered many gay-rights activists, including attorney Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal, who called them "dishonest and disingenuous" for disregarding the consensus among child-welfare professionals.

Among the groups supporting same-sex marriage are the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American College of Nursing, the Child Welfare League of America and the National Association of Social Workers.

Just a few days before the oral arguments, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed that stance, asserting in a report that a stable relationship between parents -- regardless of sexual orientation -- contributes to a child's health and well-being.

"There should be equal opportunity for every couple to access the economic stability and federal supports provided to married couples to raise children," said Dr. Benjamin Siegel, co-author of the report.

A much smaller breakaway group, the American College of Pediatricians, has issued several recent statements opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage and insisting that unanswered questions remain as to how children raised by gay parents will fare over time.

"We're saying, 'Move with caution,' " said Dr. Den Trumbull of Montgomery, Ala., the president of the college. "When it comes to adoption, married heterosexual couples should be first in line."

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation's most influential pediatrician's group, claims 60,000 members. Trumbull said his group's membership is in the hundreds.

Some opponents of same-sex marriage welcomed a study published last year in an academic journal, Social Science Research, by Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor at the University of Texas. Citing data gathered from more than 15,000 Americans ages 18-39, Regnerus concluded that young adults with a parent who had a same-sex relationship at some point were more likely than those raised by stable heterosexual couples to experience various problems, including unemployment, ill health, and illegal drug use.

The study, funded by conservative groups opposed to gay marriage, was widely criticized as a misleading "apples to oranges" comparison which didn't examine how children fared who had been raised by stable same-sex couples.

Regnerus has acknowledged this shortcoming, saying his survey pool contained very few such couples. In an article for Slate magazine, Regnerus wrote that he has no expertise about children currently being raised by gay parents, but he stood by his contention that a household with a married mom and dad is "the safest place for a kid."

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