It's not yet time to declare a momentous victory, but it's certainly a sign of progress that even staunch social conservatives like U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan now support adoption by lesbians and gay men. "I think if a person wants to love and raise a child," the Wisconsin Republican recently told constituents, "they ought to be able to do that. Period."
Even though Ryan said he still does not believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, his change of heart about adoption has significant resonance for a couple of reasons. First, it comes in the context of huge progress for LGBT people on other fronts (even as we await the outcome of two historic marriage equality cases now before the U.S. Supreme Court); and, second, because Ryan delivered his comments just ahead of Mother's Day and Father's Day.
Like all other parents during those national celebrations, gay moms and dads in every state will receive cards and flowers and ties and hugs and other expressions of love from their sons and daughters -- tens of thousands of whom were adopted from the U.S. child welfare system, many of them at older ages, in sibling groups or with physical, psychological or developmental special needs.
The point is that the professionals whose job is to ensure the safety and well-being of children in foster care have long known from experience what the research unequivocally affirms: that gay parents, like their straight peers who also are vetted and trained before being permitted to adopt, provide enormous benefits to girls and boys who need families. That is precisely why a wide array of mainstream organizations, from the Donaldson Adoption Institute to the American Academy of Pediatrics, to the National Association of Social Workers and numerous others, have uniformly come out in support of adoption by lesbians and gay men.
There are benefits that the children in these families do not receive, however, and they are the ones that derive from marriage. Separate from the question of whether single and unmarried parents can also raise children well -- which both experience and research clearly demonstrate they can -- it's simply true that society values marriage and attaches a diverse range of advantages to children within it, such as insurance coverage, legal protections, social standing, inheritance and so forth. Indeed, I believe it can be fairly argued that children are the biggest beneficiaries of marriage.
So, keeping that reality firmly in mind for a moment, I'd like to suggest that in addition to the adult-focused issue that is central to the gay marriage debate -- whether it's fair to give different people different rights depending on their sexual orientation -- we also should address another vital question, one on which most people of every political and religious stripe presumably would agree: Shouldn't our nation's laws, policies and practices serve "the best interests of the child?"
Viewed through that prism, the picture of what needs to happen next seems crystal clear to me: The 39 states that have not approved marriage equality should do so expeditiously, and the Supreme Court should decide the marriage equality cases before it in favor of allowing gay men and women to legally wed and to have those unions recognized by the federal government.
After all, if it is in the best interests of children to have the opportunity to live in families in which they can receive the most protections and the greatest advantages, "they ought to be able to do that. Period."