10/18/2012 10:08 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Finally Abolishing the 'Love Penalty,' France Says 'I Do' to Same-Sex Marriage and Gay Adoption

In 1981 President François Mitterand, pushed by Minister of Justice Robert Badinter, abolished the death penalty in France. Now President François Hollande, by embracing same-sex marriage and gay adoption, is about to abolish what I call the "love penalty."

Admittedly, it is difficult for a parent to accept that his or her child is taking a path of alternative relationships. It's an old fear: The gentle little boy who always played so well with girls and stuck a little too closely to his mother's side confirms his romantic leanings (which the mother always knew) as a teenager; the sheltered tomboy who always wanted so desperately to win a match against her tennis coach proves unlikely, like the boy, to carry on the family line.

I am totally in favor of this bill. Totally. Indeed, it is odd to accept single-parent adoption but oppose same-sex adoption on the grounds that the children would be unable to find in same-sex parents any modeling of the male-female differences necessary for them to develop their identity. How does a single mother or father raise a child successfully, then? This closed-minded reasoning ignores the fact that fathers and mothers are primarily mosaics, agglomerations of characters who crossed their lives as children. Yet all it takes is hiding one's homosexuality to be able to adopt as a single mother or father.

In clinical adolescent psychiatry one is much more likely to meet struggling single mothers with teenage sons than one is to meet gay parents, but that's not because gay people don't think about having kids. Gay couples may unite their desires for children: A lesbian is impregnated by a gay man and carries the child, and a joint-custody plan is approved by a family judge, but then a conflict may arise -- no difference, same pain for the child. Adopted children, meanwhile, often become difficult in their teenage years, as adoptive families testify. But the parents' homosexuality is not the source of the problem; the teenager is.

Going back to the topic of wanting children: Associations of parents of gay youth provide us with the alarming fact that gay youth are more likely than straight youth to commit suicide. Are they more fragile? Undoubtedly, but "psychological autopsies" -- studying their letters, emails and text messages -- reveal that these youth often suffer over the prospect of not procreating because they have chosen sterility.

Should we still need to be convinced of the importance of accepting adoption by gay couples, it would be enough to listen to the disgraceful comments made by an elected official in Paris, expressing fear of "incest and pedophilia" in these environments. His comments betray great ignorance on these matters. Is he aware that 80 percent of incest cases occur within families and involve straight people, to whom his ignorance attributes every virtue?

But let us be skeptical, too, and begin longitudinal studies of these children. Let us provide real follow-ups for all adoptive families, without discrimination. As it is, adoptive parents usually consult a pediatrician when the child arrives, then nothing for years, then a child psychiatrist when he or she becomes a teenager and is running wild. Let us establish annual check-ups for adopted children, on a voluntary basis, free of stigma. Let us fight against the terrifying fact that 30 percent of adopted children suffer from mental health problems, even those who grow up with a higher socioeconomic status. Let us change this dismal prognosis through the questions that gay adoption raises.

Another possibility is for members of the extended family to participate in caring for the child. Grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, friends -- these are other examples from which children can draw as they develop their identity. Of course, the same goes for straight parents, who too often tend to form a trio with their long-awaited treasure.

Same-sex parents may also gain approval from the larger population by adopting older children -- 9, 10, or older -- who are living in state institutions and might be less attractive than a baby who has not had time to suffer the experience of being moved from foster home to foster home. This situation would allow the children themselves to participate in their own adoption.

Of course, not everything will be simple. There is a risk of haste. We have just learned that an amendment proposed by Bruno Le Roux addresses sperm donation and surrogate pregnancy. Let us accept differences: Only women can be pregnant, and we are on the verge of extraordinary discoveries about the mother-embryo relationship. Permitting something does not mean giving free rein.

I'm reminded of a man who lived in secrecy, far from home, who never told his mother about his relationships, and who honored me with his trust as he shared his suffering. The son of an immigrant, today he would be proud of France, his adoptive country, for which he risked his life under the occupation. His beloved country is about to abolish the love penalty.