Miller: Doctrine Vs. Domesticity

First comes love, then comes marriage. Then come all the thorny issues that arise with raising kids in a religious tradition when that religious tradition doesn't see you as married.

When another state legalizes gay marriage, as New Hampshire did recently, civil-rights activists cheer. But practicalities are another matter, and same-sex couples—especially those who want to raise their children with religion—may find that the laws intended to protect them may also create new domestic challenges previously unforeseen. That two men or two women would want to marry and raise children in a church that views their love as sinful would be, in the eyes of some, puzzling at best. (I'm focusing on the Roman Catholic tradition here, but any orthodox religion presents similar trials.) Many people feel that religion is essential to them, however, and that family life would be emptier without it. Gregory Maguire, author of the novel Wicked, has had all three of his children baptized in the Catholic Church. He recently watched proudly as his youngest child had her first holy communion. "As the daughter of two dads, she sat in the first pew in her beautiful, white, borrowed gown," Maguire told me. "And then she sang, 'I've got that joy, joy, joy, down in my heart'."

Maguire lives in Concord, Mass., and is legally married now—but wasn't when he and his partner started adoption proceedings for each of their three children (from Southeast Asia and Latin America) more than 14 years ago. In an ironic twist, gay-marriage laws now make foreign adoption more difficult for gay couples. Adoption agencies and lawyers say no foreign countries knowingly give babies to gay couples for adoption. Same-sex couples who want to adopt internationally have traditionally circumvented this prohibition with the following fudge: one half of the couple adopts as a single person. Once back home, the couple goes to court and establishes co-parenthood in states that will allow it. A legally married gay couple doesn't have the option of a fudge: truthful responses to questions about marital status on adoption documents crush the couple's chances of ever adopting abroad. That's why Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders advises couples to wait to get married. "If international adoption is important ... then they need to postpone forming a legal relationship," says Bruce Bell, who runs GLAD's help line.

And then there's the question of adoption agencies with traditional religious affiliations. In Britain, Catholic-run adoption agencies are in an uproar for having to comply with a 2007 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual preference. Because the Catholic Church stands so firmly against gay marriage—and reaffirmed this opposition in a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—any Catholic agency that helps same-sex couples adopt children is, in a sense, helping to foster a lifestyle that it believes is fundamentally immoral. (The 2003 document was explicit: allowing same-sex couples to adopt children "would actually mean doing violence to these children.") Now, with the 20-month transition period over, the British agencies are having to choose between retaining their Catholic affiliation or their function as adoption agencies.

Lest one think this couldn't happen here, it already has. In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston agonized about whether it could submit to the state's nondiscrimination policies. "What the Catholic Church has tried to say," explains the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who, at the time, headed Catholic Charities, "is that gay men and women ought to have their civil rights protected. I think on the whole we've pretty much stood for that in terms of wages, jobs, access to living accommodations ... Where you meet the neuralgic point is the definition of marriage." Hehir says that he and Boston's Archbishop Seán O'Malley understood that the church's teaching left no wiggle room. They shut the adoption agency down.

But there are many ways of procuring children, and once procured, the Catholic Church—on a pastoral level, at least—has had only occasional problems baptizing and educating them in the tradition. "Church law always favors the salvation of the person and is very biased in favor of the person asking for the sacrament," says John Baldovin, a sacramental theologian at Boston College. What canon law actually says is this: any baby can be baptized if the parents agree, and if the infant has a reasonable hope of being raised in a Catholic home. The experts disagree, obviously, about whether two mommies or two daddies are able to do this. Maguire firmly believes he is, and he can imagine severing his relationship with his church over the enforcement of any hard line. What he can't imagine is being anything but Catholic.

Join the Discussion