This post is part of Outward, Slate’s home for coverage of LGBTQ life, thought, and culture. Read more here.
Gay men may have an easier time than lesbians when adopting children through private agencies, according to a recent piece in Rewire.News. Reporter Miriam Zoila Pérez interviewed adoptive parents, adoption lawyers, employees of adoption agencies, and advocates for queer families, all of whom confirmed that in the sphere of private adoptions, which give birth parents a say in who gets to adopt their children, birth mothers are generally more comfortable going with an all-male couple. One possible explanation, according to an attorney who specializes in adoptions: “[A] birth mother may choose a gay male couple as the adoptive parents so as to remain the only mother in the child’s life.”
There are few good gender- and sexuality-disaggregated statistics on private adoption, but anecdotal reports collected by Rewire.News and elsewhere do suggest that gay men seeking to adopt have some advantages over lesbians and even straight couples. Though they must still contend with the homophobia of some birth parents and state adoption policies, these gay men may benefit from a combination of financial security, flattering stereotypes, and a greater willingness to adopt children of color than their straight counterparts exhibit.
In addition to the appeal some birth mothers may find in an adoptive family with no mother, gay men’s chances could also be boosted by their portrayal in pop culture as cultured, wealthy, and educated, with a special affinity for straight women. One advocate told Pérez that today’s birth mothers are part of “the Will and Grace generation,” referring to a television show about two lovable gay men and their female best friends. That show, like many others, only included queer women as punchlines to jokes about sexual predation, bisexuality as a choice of convenience, or unattractive, unfashionable men.
The stereotype of gay men as wealthy and highly educated isn’t wrong. According to the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey, gay male couples have higher household incomes and are more likely to both have bachelor’s degrees than either straight couples or lesbian ones. Gay couples of all genders, but especially male ones, are more likely than straight married couples to have both partners employed. And gay male couples are more likely to own their homes than lesbian couples. In other words, statistics and cultural standards that apply to American men—they make more money in every industry, are socialized toward more lucrative fields, and are stigmatized if they don’t work outside the home—apply doubly to a household with two of them. It makes sense that a birth mother who wants her infant to enjoy the comforts and security of financial stability would naturally be drawn to a gay male couple. Gay men also skirt the double standards and biases that impede conversations about work and parenthood, given that women typically incur judgment whether they work outside the home or not.
Another reason why gay couples get matched with adoptees more quickly, according to Pérez’s sources, is that gay couples, even all-white ones, are more open to adopting children of color than their straight white counterparts. Adoptees are disproportionately black; if the birth mother of a black infant is open to entering an adoption agreement with an eager white, mixed, or nonblack couple, that couple could have an easier time getting matched than if they chose to wait for a child of another race. (It must be said that transracial adoption brings with it its own challenges and complications for both adoptees and conscientious adoptive parents.) The 2010 census found that gay and lesbian couples were more than twice as likely to be interracial or inter-ethnic than straight married couples—more than 1 in 5 same-sex couples had such a makeup at the time of the census—which would make them more likely to feel capable of raising a child of color. And since there’s no hiding the fact that a child of a gay couple isn’t biologically related to both parents, it may be less important for same-sex adoptive couples than for straight ones to adopt a kid who looks like a biological member of their family.
Though gay couples are more likely to be interracial than straight ones, research has shown that all-white same-sex couples are about twice as likely to be raising an adopted child than those with at least one nonwhite partner. Among gay and lesbian couples, adoptive parenting is also highly correlated with educational attainment. This is no surprise for lesbians—for less-educated (and generally lower-earning) women, it may be a lot cheaper to conceive a child through artificial insemination than to adopt through a private agency, especially if they have good health insurance and are able to get pregnant through intracervical or intrauterine insemination rather than the pricier in vitro fertilization process. Adopting through foster care would be even more affordable. But in the private adoption sphere, where couples are essentially competing against one another to appear most desirable to a birth mother, less-educated and less-wealthy lesbian and gay couples are at an even greater disadvantage when compared with their disproportionately well-educated peers.
In this way, adoption could stand in for any social or legal institution queers must navigate. Though LGBTQ people of all races, genders, and income levels are subject to homophobia, they experience it in vastly different ways. The stereotypes and structural inequities lesbians confront in the process of adopting a child are so different from those of gay men that if conservatives weren’t so set on excluding both types of couples from adoption, it would barely make sense to consider them part of the same population.
The gender- and class-based disparities in queer adoption could become more pronounced in the future. As red states and religious adoption agencies find new ways to shut LGBTQ families out of adoption and foster care, same-sex couples who choose to adopt will need to compete even harder to stand out from the crowd. High-earning gay men are increasingly choosing a more expensive way to become parents: gestational surrogacy arrangements, which have become legal in a growing list of states over the past couple of decades. But such arrangements are still relatively rare. For many prospective gay parents, braving the unpredictable path of adoption, no matter the challenges it presents or the biases it perpetuates, will still be their best bet.