Dan Savage Makes an Excellent Point...

about gay adoption.

The house next to me in Pennsylvania is owned by a lesbian couple. (I say "owned" by them because that's how they present the situation: I really have no idea if they own it jointly.) These ladies have made a habit of taking in the neglected products of various heterosexual couplings and raising them. I cannot help but believe that these children they have cared for were greatly benefited by their generous attitude, compared to the actual alternatives they were facing. And that's the point Savage makes that I liked: the issue is not, "Are children better off in a happy, stable, household headed by a heterosexual couple than they are in a similar household headed by a gay couple?" but is instead: "Given the vast excess of children without families compared to the number of heterosexual couples who are seeking to adopt, is gay adoption better than institutional 'care'?"

While I consider myself a "traditionalist," at least in some ways, some of my supposed comrades make me shiver: respecting tradition and believing that, by default, we should follow it does not mean that we should become abject idiots in the face of a situation that clearly calls for a tradition to be changed!

That, in fact, was the main contention of Chapter Three of my book on Oakeshott: the fact that Oakeshott thought that traditions contain wisdom was taken by many of his critics to imply that we must simply, slavishly do whatever was done in the past. But Oakeshott was quite clear that this is not what a respect for tradition is about at all: If we really come to appreciate traditions, we also come to appreciate that they are never fixed, but always evolving and adapting to new circumstances.

And in Chapter Six of the aforementioned book, I show how taking traditions as "sacred practices" that must not be altered is, indeed, an ideological, and not a traditional stance: as I put it, a respect for traditions can be transformed into an ideology I call "traditionalism." And I show, I believe, how ideological traditionalism actually contributes to the decay of traditions, since it presents a slavish bondage to the past as the only alternative to revolutionary change.


  1. I agree that it's good to keep the options of neglected children in mind when thinking about this. To me the status of gay adoption demonstrates how un-thought-out (at best, phony at worst) most opposition to gay marriage is. Regardless of what you think about marriage, isn't the legal ability to adopt children way more consequential? And that right has been granted to gay couples with comparably little fan fare. The only way you hear about it is Catholic adoption services choosing to shut down instead of place children with gay couples.

  2. Two points in response to Savage.

    First, I do not believe Savage is right when he says that there is a "vast excess of children without families compared to the number of heterosexual couples who are seeking to adopt." For example, according to the 2002 National Family Growth, there were 2.6 million women in the U.S. who had taken concrete steps towards adopting, vs. 115,000 children waiting for adoption in foster care.

    It would be more accurate to say that there is a mismatch between the types of children who couples are seeking to adopt (young, without disabilities, no siblings) and the types of children who are available for adoption (older, with disabilities, having siblings). Depending on who you talk to, there are also regulatory problems that make it harder to adopt than it needs to be (hence the increasing popularity of international adoption). It's not clear that simply allowing gay couples to adopt would do much to alleviate these problems.

    Second, I would have more sympathy for gay adoption if proponents weren't simultaneously trying to drive organizations like the Catholic Church out of the adoption business. In Massachusetts, for example, the Church was forced to stop placing children for adoption altogether because they had a religious objection that did not allow them to place children with gay couples. This despite the fact that the Church was the only organization in Massachusetts doing adoptions for special needs children.

  3. "It would be more accurate to say that there is a mismatch between the types of children who couples are seeking to adopt "

    Sectoral imbalances?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Central Planning Works!

The biggest intellectual nothing burger of the last century?