Daily Mail

Adoption and the threat to marriage

By Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
May 13 2002

Here we go again. On Thursday, the House of Commons is expected to vote on a government-backed amendment to the adoption bill, which will remove the bar on unmarried couples becoming joint adoptive parents. This has predictably been characterised as a ‘gay adoption’ issue and battle lines have accordingly been drawn.

The inimitable moral campaigners Baroness Young and the Christian Institute have mustered against the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, (BAAF) which claims that this change in the law is needed to encourage more people to adopt. Behind BAAF are lined up the government and the moral bankrupts of the intellectual and political establishment. The issue will accordingly be portrayed as religious fundamentalism and prejudice versus pragmatism and the needs of children.

The fact is, though, that the interests of vulnerable children are just about the last thing under consideration here. Through this amendment, the adoption bill is being manipulated to serve a quite different agenda which is instead all about the wishes of adults. It is the latest salvo in the relentless and illiberal campaign to destroy marriage as the fundamental reference point for family life and to give cohabitation equivalent status.

It is misleading to see the adoption amendment as a ‘gay rights’ issue. This is certainly an element, but it is part of a much wider drive to undermine the truth that, in the main, the security and emotional health of children resides primarily in their parents being and remaining married. The number of gay adopters will always be miniscule. Of infinitely greater significance is the proposal to allow heterosexual cohabitants to adopt, which is part of the move to equalise ‘rights’ between marriage and cohabitation. 

The presumption behind the current law is that children are best served if they are adopted by married couples, to provide the security and sense of self that such children desperately need. The law also allows single people -- including gays -- to adopt. This covers unusual circumstances -- for example, where a very disturbed abused child cannot be placed in a household with a man, or where the child may have formed a close attachment to a relative who happens to be a lesbian.

Such flexibility is necessary to be able to respond in children’s best interests; and no-one has ever suggested that such single people, gay or straight, don’t do a great job in such circumstances.

But there are no exceptional circumstances that make adoption by cohabitants a preferred option. BAAF claims that enabling unmarried couples to adopt will increase the numbers who volunteer. Yet there is no evidence that many would do so. In a briefing note to MPS, BAAF said that a MORI poll it commissioned found that more unmarried couples than married wanted to adopt. But as the small print of its survey makes clear, the reason fewer married couples said they would consider adopting may well only have been because more of them were older.

BAAF claims that cohabitants don’t volunteer to adopt because of the legal disadvantages arising from the fact that only one partner can be the adoptive parent. This really won’t wash. After all, would-be adopters could wipe out this problem by the simple expedient of getting married. If people don’t want the obligations and ties of marriage, that’s their privilege; but why then should they be entitled to its benefits?

Here, of course, lies the rub. It is precisely this desire to enjoy the rights of marriage without any of its duties that is driving the government’s grossly irresponsible moves to give cohabitants the same legal deal as married couples. And it is quite clear that the adoption amendment is part of that agenda, to destroy marriage as a meaningful legal union and bestow its ‘rights’ on any sexual ‘relationship’.  

Thus, Labour Party Chairman Charles Clarke has parroted the New Labour mantra that ‘families come in a variety of shapes, sizes and formations’ and that unmarried or homosexual couples should be afforded the same adoption ‘rights’ as married heterosexuals. A submission by BAAF to the Gwynnedd adoption panel, extolling gay and lesbian adoption as problem-free, nevertheless revealingly remarked that ‘for many gay men, fostering or adoption may be their only route to parenting’. In other words, this is being driven by the desires of adults. 

The Health Secretary Alan Milburn has said the amendment is about the rights of children. But children don’t have adult rights, they have needs – above all, for stability, security and a sense of identity. Those needs will not be met through cohabitation. Milburn and other New Labour politicians may be happily living with unmarried partners, but the number of cohabitants who stay together while their children grow up is miniscule.

Cohabitations break up far more frequently than marriages; indeed, cohabiting partners split up most often when they have children. This is an appalling prospect for adopted children, whose overwhelming need is for security. Apparently, councils will need to see proof than a cohabiting couple is ‘stable and committed’. This is absurd. Such proof is known as marriage; and the refusal to get married is evidence of a refusal to be committed.

The shallow and sentimental view has taken hold that all you need is love to be an effective parent. As Charles Clarke said, it would be ‘unfair to discriminate against a loving home’. But parenting involves far more than this. It is above all about anchoring a child in a secure sense of its own identity.

The Prime Minister’s office has tried to downplay the adoption amendment as merely a technical adjustment. It is nothing of the kind. It is rather the latest shot in the full scale ideological assault on marriage and the family which has been promulgated by this government since the day it took office.

The real problem is not the shortage of applicants for adoption but the astonishing failure of local authorities to place children for adoption among the thousands of families who do want to adopt.

The fact is that adoption agencies discriminate against married couples on the basis that they are the wrong race or fall foul of other fashionable prejudices. Indeed, it is a telling commentary that those who oppose trans-racial adoption, on the grounds that this poses a risk to a child’s racial identity, are often the same people promoting gay adoption, regardless of the risk to a child’s sexual identity.

The adoption bill is an attempt to enable more children to be adopted. The amendment has nothing to do with that laudable aim. All children, including those who are adopted, need to be brought up by a mother and father. The best chance of that happening is if the parents are married.

The agenda behind the amendment is the destruction of that most important of our social norms. It is being driven by adult egoism and irresponsibility, and adopted children are the latest victims to be tossed aside in its ruthless path.

To comment on any article, e-mail melanie@melaniephillips.com

© Melanie Phillips 2002.