A lesbian mother has argued, rather amazingly, against gay adoption. In a case over custody of her 7-year old son Gavin, Sara Wheeler, 36, has argued that since Georgia law does not specifically allow it, it must implicitly prohibit it. Whilst I don’t actually agree with the logic behind the argument (especially in light of the fact that Georgia law does specifically allow gay marriage), and whilst I would normally be quite a strong proponent of the right of gay people to adopt, the case raises an interesting dilemma which has forced me to reassess my views. Whilst I still agree that if two gay people wish to adopt a child whose biological parents are both third parties they should be allowed to, having read about this case I would have to side with Sara.
Traditionally once a child is legally adopted the rights of the adoptive parent(s) trump those of the birth parents. Of course in Sara’s case this isn’t particularly a huge issue as her ex-partner, Missy, is only filing for joint custody. However it isn’t too hard to think of a situation where the break-up, as in this case, was acrimonious, and the adoptive partner, in part to get back at their ex-partner, might seek to enforce their strict legal rights as the sole adoptive parent of the child. These rights would trump those of the birth parent entitling the adoptive parent to claim sole custody of the child and completely curtail any visitation. This would be a rather cruel result for the biological parent. Of course this situation isn’t exclusive to gay couples, and there are many situations in straight relationships where one partner brings children from a former relationship with them and their partner adopts them to gain legal parenting rights. In this situation the same sort of problems arise should the couple divorce, and I’d argue that adoption should also be prohibited in those cases as well.
Ultimately Sara is correct in asserting that this is not about gay rights, it’s about the rights of a birth parent and whether “adoptions of convenience” should really be allowed if they can potentially interfere with the rights of the birth parent. The counter argument to this is that many birth parents give their children up for adoption and then change their mind years later, and the law does not generally allow these parents to have rights which surpass those of the adoptive parent(s). I’m not swayed by this argument myself, but it does have merit. The case is an incredibly difficult one to decide (the judge has his work cut out) and whichever way it does turn out, you have to sympathise with whichever mother is on the losing side. Worse yet, in this tragic case the biggest victim of all is a seven year old boy.