My junior year of high school, which feels like it was about a hundred years ago, there was an exchange student from Amsterdam at our school. She and I were friendly, but she really hit it off with my best friend. The two women have kept in touch ever since.
They don’t see each other often, but they get together whenever they’re both on the same continent. Last week they were able to introduce their spouses and children to each other and had a chance to catch up.
At some point, the conversation turned to people they knew in high school, and my friend mentioned that my husband and I have adopted two children. Our friend from Amsterdam smiled, and then stopped the conversation for a moment so she could explain the following to her husband:
“It’s noteworthy because in America, gay men do not often adopt children. It’s not like at home. Here, having adopted children makes Mark a civil rights pioneer.”
The story makes me laugh for a few reasons. First, that someone from Amsterdam might need to have it explained that gay people parent less frequently than straight people. Second, the idea that parenting could make me a pioneer when people have been parenting since the dawn of time. And third, because the whole process seemed so matter-of-fact!
When my husband and I applied to become adoptive parents, the woman I spoke to on the phone at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families said something awkward. I can’t remember the exact words, but she said something about how different social workers have different levels of experience and comfort working with same-sex couples. It was, literally, the first and last time I heard anything like that during the whole process.
In our training class, three of the ten couples were same sex couples. We weren’t even the only gay male couple in the group. One of our social workers was a lesbian. The foster family that our sons lived with when we met them is a lesbian family. It was a complete non-issue every step of the way.
Still, it’s interesting to hear someone else’s perspective. Obviously, the Netherlands is light years ahead of the United States in terms of gay rights, and that translates to increased visibility of LGBT people, especially in urban areas like Amsterdam. But I’m not sure if gay rights in Massachusetts really lags so far behind in reality as it does on paper.
(And I soon as typed that sentence, I got mad at myself. It does lag behind, even in Massachusetts, because of federal law. One of my husband’s friends has spent the last five years terrified that his partner of nearly two decades will be deported back to Mexico. And I would be irresponsible if I didn’t say that federal laws like DOMA have a disproportionate impact on some families over others. As white people, with a husband who has a good job and a house in the suburbs, I’m able to feel like we have full equality much of the time.)
Well, I can at least say that social attitudes have changed more quickly than the law.