Adoptive Families in a Diverse Society

By Katarina Wegar | Go to book overview
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8
Family Values
Gay Men and Adoption in America

ELLEN LEWIN

Without a child you were always a child: a hanger-on, an exile, a zero.1

The changing status of lesbians and gay men in the United States has perhaps been expressed most dramatically in recent years in the increasing visibility of insignia of family legitimacy. As debates about such matters as domestic partnership registration and benefits, same-sex marriage, child custody, adoption, and assisted reproduction have become prominent in the courts and the media, longstanding assumptions that homosexuality and “family values” must inevitably clash have been superseded by images of same-sex couples getting married, having children, and becoming seemingly unremarkable participants in the lives of their wider communities.2

In particular, wider access to a variety of reproductive technologies has provided mechanisms by which gay men may seek to have children outside of marital relationships. At the same time, adoption, particularly for special needs, minority or mixed race, and older children—conventionally labeled “hard to place”—and for children from some foreign countries, has become more accessible to single (gay or straight) men or to gay male couples. The emergence as well of “private” adoption as a mechanism that occurs at least partly outside official channels has brought various information technologies into the picture as well, as individuals or couples eager to adopt can publicize their interest to an audience of potential birth mothers. These developments, however, have had little impact on prevailing social theory, which argues that the attributes commonly associated with gender are derived from women’s reproductive specialization as mothers and men’s corresponding involvement in other cultural domains, although most would hold that it is maternal practices rather than biological maternity or instinct that frame the formation of gender.3

These perspectives, as I have observed elsewhere, “tend to conflate motherhood and womanhood, as though they were interchangeable, mutually defining, and as though the status of woman could be entirely understood with

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