Who gets to decide who is a second-best family?

Families living in adoption deal with ranking all the time. People wonder: which is more important — nature or nurture? I’m on a mission, as I stated in my keynote speech last week, to get people to stop thinking this way when it comes to biology and biography. BOTH are important to a child and neither can be weighed.

Ranking — putting similar but different things or people into a hierarchy — makes one better than another. It also grants the ranker some sort of special judging status. That’s why last week’s story about John Eastman, Chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, bothers me so. He has his own personal hierarchy about the validity of families.

L is for loserThe Huffington Post reports  that Eastman said, “Certainly adoption in families headed, like Chief [Justice of the Supreme Court] Roberts’ family is, by a heterosexual couple, is by far the second-best option.”

So the family I grew up in, according to Eastman, ranks #1. And the one I’ve created with my husband and my children, in his mind, ranks #2.

Now this can be interpreted in a couple of ways. One is that adoption is second best. I, along with other adoption writers, have covered that before. “Second” can be an ordinal number or a  of chronological number. I suspect Eastman was using the ordinal meaning:

Daddy+Mommy+biological child(ren) is best.
Daddy+Mommy+child(ren) via adoption is second best.

Less than.



But maybe this is not what Eastman meant at all. He says on the NOM website:

“An article by the Associated Press has been mischaracterized by The Huffington Post to grossly misrepresent my views on adoption. I believe that couples who adopt children are heroes and do a great service to society, and to the children they adopt. I strongly believe, based on thousands of years of experience and countless social science studies, that children do best when raised by a mother and a father within the bounds of marriage. I commend all those couples who selflessly give of themselves to raise a child who, through no fault of her own, has been deprived of a mother and father. There is nothing ‘second best’ about adoption.”

The stand that Eastman may have been taking — and perhaps even more odious than adoption as a runner-up — is that adoption is a good second choice, far ahead of other lower-ranking options.

Such as same-sex parenting.

NOM was  “Founded in 2007 in response to the growing need for an organized opposition to same-sex marriage in state legislatures, NOM serves as a national resource for marriage-related initiatives at the state and local level.”


Know what I think is less than? Know what I think is second best — nine-thousand-six-hundred-and-twenty-eighth best? What’s less than, as a ranker, is not factoring in love and connection and commitment. What’s 9628th best is thinking you are superior and can pass judgment on others.

I reject Eastman’s rankings. He does not have my permission to judge me or my family or my views on what makes a family.

I prefer to think of family in this way, described by a Facebook status that came across my radar as I wrote this post:

In truth a family is what you make it. A family is made strong, not by number of heads [or other body parts] counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, and love you show to one another, and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit. — Marge Kennedy, director of KidSmart Media

There are nearly 5000 comments currently at the HuffPo, and by my quick scan there is very little support for Eastman’s views (no surprise — it’s on the Gay Voices page). If you were to leave a comment about ranking and judging families, what would it be?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

21 thoughts on “Who gets to decide who is a second-best family?”

  1. I…just….can’t think of anything nice to say to (or about) this guy! I wonder how many families in America (or anywhere else, for that matter) fit in to his idea of perfect, seeing as there are SO many different varieties, all of which seem to work just fine. I *almost* feel sorry for someone who is so small-minded. Must be a lonely existence being so perfect. Well-written, Lori, as always!

  2. Interestingly, his attempt at “correcting” the perceptions makes things so much worse. Where does he get off telling us that we, as adoptive parents, are heroes who seemingly rescued these poor suffering children??? I do not feel like a hero. I did not adopt my daughter to “save” her. I even sometimes feel like I selfishly yanked her from everything she knew in southern China (including a foster family who loved her as much as she loved them) to bring her to a freezing cold climate in Canada where she had to adjust to MY way of life. I do realize that she has gained a lot through our adoption. But she has lost a lot too. And to say that I am a “hero” and that I have done a “great service to society” by adopting my daughter makes her sound like a second class citizen. And to say that when we adopted our daughter we “selflessly gave ourselves to raise a child who…has been deprived of a mother and father” is wrong on so many levels! This was NOT DONE SELFLESSLY! And my child was not deprived of a mother and father. She has numerous mothers and fathers (3 sets-birthparents, foster parents and us). Our children are NOT second class. We are not doing them a favour. I believe they complete us, and that we need them as much as they need us…

      1. YES!! Exactly how I feel. You captured it exactly. I sometimes want to wear a big button that says: “I’m an adoptive mom. Please don’t congratulate me on rescuing anyone. My baby’s not a puppy and I’m not a hero.” But then I’d have to explain and no one would get it. I’m so glad you do.

  3. Another great example of how bigoted and closed minded people leading organizations like NOM are. To pass blanket judgements on groups of people simply because change scares you. Wrong in so many levels.

    Your family is second to none, Lori. Your family is built on a strong foundation of love and trust. I suspect it’s something Mr. Eastman and his family could learn from. Because growing up in an environment that pushes hate and intolerance is second (or finitely less) best.

  4. Sadly, that comment didn’t surprise me. I absolutely believe that a family is what you make it. No family is more or less important, better or worse, than the other because of how it was formed. I also agree with what MFT wrote about the perception of adoptive parents as heros. Nothing pisses me off more than someone telling me what a “wonderful thing” I did by “saving” my daughter.

  5. I can’t fault the guy for following his agenda, but I can fault him for his narrow-minded intolerance that created the agenda in the first place. I suppose it’s nice if you grew up with only one kind of family (two parents who mostly get along, various numbers of children born to those people), but my experience was with a variety of different kinds of families and they all (more or less) functioned similarly to my very traditional family. And so, I believe family is what you make it. If you want to parent, then accomplish that in whatever way works for you. If you don’t want to parent, don’t. If you can’t have children, and still want to parent, adopt – an egg, an embryo, a child. If you can’t have children and have decided not to parent, that’s a good choice too.

    Some people labor under the Categorical Imperative, which is far too rigid a philosophical system for the shades of gray that make up every day life. There is no absolute moral code in this world, and I don’t believe anyone who says there is. (For example, Thou Shalt Not Kill is not a categorical imperative for most people – it’s a general guideline that says death is not an appropriate punishment for most offenses. However, under certain circumstances (i.e. self-defense), it’s allowable. Categorical imperative = demolished)

  6. *Also “If you can’t have children and have decided not to parent” should be “have decided not to parent directly” because I’m pretty sure at some point everyone acts in a parental type role be it boss, mentor, aunt/uncle, trusted advisor, etc.

  7. If that’s what he thinks of adoptive families, I can just imagine what he thinks of families built through ARTs… or my family of two.

    I admire adoptive parents (like you, Lori), because I know that adoption is a far more complex way to build your family than most people realize or acknowledge. But I understand and agree with your rejection of the “heroes providing a service” label.

  8. When my conservative family first found out that my wife and I (we are a same-sex couple) were hoping to adopt, they worried aloud that our child wouldn’t have a father…so it wouldn’t be fair or good for the child to have us as parents. Then they consoled themselves with thinking that the child we adopted could have been raised by a homeless person…or a drug addict…so maybe being raised by a lesbian couple wasn’t such a bad thing by comparison. We’ve done a lot of education with my family since then, and they have come a long way towards overcoming their ignorant stereotypes of birth/first parents and adoption in general.

    On the other hand, my wife and I continue to feel amazingly grateful that we GET to adopt. We have never, never taken it for granted. We feel lucky that our home state (Oregon) isn’t hostile to same-sex couples like other states (Florida, Mississippi). To be honest, I have to admit that it is sometimes a struggle to not internalize this type of “ranking” even when I intellectually know its hogwash. But I’m motivated to resist this destructive stuff and loudly and boldly show my pride in my chosen family because I want our daughter to see and feel that pride too.

  9. My knee-jerk comment would be along the lines of “Who the hell do you think you are?”

    When I calmed down it would be: “No one has the right to judge how families are made. It is counterproductive to pronounce one type of family is better than another type of family when you don’t know the intracacies of said familes. The way we chose to build our family was one of many choices we could have made. None are better than the other, they are just choices.”

    I also reject anyone who thinks my family is second best or that I am a hero.

  10. My comment would be that few things are WORSE than the ignorance, bigotry and prejudice he is pushing with his agenda. People get hurt badly but those 3 things, sometimes even killed by those 3 things. I honestly can’t think of a single same-sex union that has genuinely hurt anyone (unless it hurt one of their 3 things and that does NOT count!).

  11. MFT, I couldn’t agree with you more. I hate that when someone insinuates that we ‘saved’ our daughter. Since the day we brought our daughter home, the woman who runs the adoption agency that we went through will say to us any time we speak that we are saints to our daughter. No we are not!!! We are not saints nor do we want to be. To me, this implies that any child who is adopted should be grateful that you adopted her/him. We are parents end of story, not saints or heros.

  12. Great post Lori! I appreciate and echo your perspective on this. I love the status update you shared and really like the wording she chose to describe her way of thinking about family.

    This post makes me think of the verse in the bible about seeing the splinter in someone else’s eye without noticing the plank in our own eyes. It also reminds me of the song lyric in Rent, “let he among us without sin be the first to condemn!”

  13. So basically, this asshat managed to marginalize and degrade a few different groups of people all at once? What a douche.

    And that, is all I’ve got.

    Oh wait, one more thing… I just wrote recently about how much it hurts my heart to remember all the different fears and hesitations I had surrounding adoption previously, now that I am so incredibly happy with my daughter in my arms. It makes me angry that at the height of my infertility struggle, I viewed adoption as second best, when now I know – there is NOTHING second best about my daughter. I wonder though, if ignorance will always fuel such views? I know mine didn’t come from a place of hatred, but rather of fear and anger over the choices which had been stripped from me, but still… there was so much ignorance on my part there, which has been changed and rectified only because of the beautiful little girl who has been brought into my life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *