Adoptive Families Are Second Best?!?

Dawn Davenport


Chief Justice John Roberts with wife Jane and children Josie and Jack Image Credit

Chief Justice John Roberts with wife Jane and children Josie and Jack in 2005

UGHH. I don’t want this to be a political blog. While I don’t steer clear of political issues, I try very hard to respect the differences of opinions in our VERY diverse audience. But when I saw the headline that John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), said that adoption is the second-best option for family building, I almost choked. My second response was to question the context. We all know that it’s easy to twist meanings by selective quoting, and quite frankly, I couldn’t believe that he would actually say that. So, I started digging.

Turns out he did actually say that, and if I’m understanding the situation, the context doesn’t help his case much.

The Supreme Court will consider two high-profile gay rights cases later this month, including whether to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. In response to a question about how he thought Chief Justice John Roberts, the adoptive father of two children, would vote, Eastman said,

“You’re looking at what is the best course society wide to get you the optimal result in the widest variety of cases. That often is not open to people in individual cases. Certainly adoption in families headed, like Chief Roberts’ family is, by a heterosexual couple, is by far the second-best option.”


I get that Eastman and the NOM were attacking gay marriage. I believe, although I’m not sure, that his point is that the purpose of marriage is procreation, and since single sex couples can’t reproduce in the traditional way, marriage should not be an option. That created a problem for him since for any number of reasons, including infertility, a heterosexual couple, such as Chief Justice Roberts and his wife and Justice Thomas and his second wife (who are guardians/adoptive parents to Justice Thomas’s grandnephew),  might not be able or want to procreate. His statement apparently was his attempt to cover those bases—they would have procreated if they could have, but alas, had to settle for second best. As is so often the case, when you take aim, it’s hard not to maim a lot of folks in the crossfire. (Might be a good reason to avoid broad attacks in general, but that’s another topic altogether.)

I’m not really even sure where to begin or how far to go with this, but let me simply say: Mr. Eastman, my family is many things—noisy, raucous, and at time irreverent, but the one thing it is not, nor will ever be, is second best!

Mr Eastman, in response to the public outcry to his comments released the following statement 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.”

Do you read Eastman’s statement the way I did, or have I missed something? Am I overreacting? Do you think his public statement in response changes anything?


Image credit:

19/03/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 52 Comments

52 Responses to Adoptive Families Are Second Best?!?

  1. Avatar Angela says:

    Meant my husband was adopted and 35 years later we adopt my daughter

  2. Avatar Angela Marshall says:

    I wonder how he would feel about children with correctable special needs. My daughter and a lot of the children and hope well baby clinic will not receive the care they need in their original countries. Is it best for them to remain in foster care not get to care they need. My daughter is very happy and healthy now.

  3. Avatar Michael R. says:

    I know I am late to this party but ….

    I do not believe Eastman’s original statement to be malicious, any more so than an acquaintance making a reference to my daughter’s “real” parents (meaning her birth parents). It is just that his words get wider play than a private comment made directly to me, so one would expect that he would carefully think through his remarks ahead of time. Obviously he did not.

    However, I also understand he is trying to provide a secular argument to support his view of marriage, and that all the wonderful, non-traditional ways of forming a family (like adoption) detract from the validity of his argument. That he would ultimately end up attacking non-traditional families was probably inevitable. But it is unfortunate that, in the effort to support his own beliefs, he would paint the world in such black-and-white terms that he would end up denigrating (even inadvertently) those of us who live in the shades-of-gray.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Michael, how beautifully and articulately you said what I was trying to say. So, I’ll respond with a not so beautiful or articulate “DITTO”.

  4. Avatar Laura Dennis says:

    Thanks for this post. I am just trying to understand … For infertile couples, or in your specific situation: was adoption your first choice for starting a family?

    Thanks for helping me clarify this issue,

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Laura, in my specific situation, I’m a mom of four by both birth and adoption; and yes, adoption was always part of our family building plans from the very beginning. However, the offensive part of his comment (although I agree with Michael that Eastman probably didn’t mean it this way) is his characterizing adoption as second best. That is quite different, in my mind, from adoption not being your first choice. Semantics? Maybe, but words often reflect hidden meanings and prejudices.

  5. Avatar Sue Taylor says:

    My clarification was intended as a response for the other Dawn. 😉

  6. Avatar Cyndi says:

    A jerk on so many levels…..

  7. Avatar MW says:

    The fact that someone speaks publicly doesn’t mean they have anything of value to say. Mr. Eastman has publicized his ignorant bigotry, confounded his defamatory remarks by his purported “correction,” and shamed himself in the process. One can only pity someone cursed with such a limited understanding of what it means to be a family (and, I suspect, a similarly limited understanding of many other aspects of being human). Poor Mr. Eastman, how fitting that he is the spokesperson for NOM, an organization with a misguided interpretation of family values.

  8. Avatar Greg says:

    If the birth parents are not in a position to raise and care for the child and they recognize that then how is adoption the second best option? To me it’s the best option for the birth parents and child as long as they both are given what they need/deserve from the adoptive parents. But realize as someone who just recently found out I am infertile who is just researching adoption as a family building option for my wife and I, I lack any understanding from experience on this topic.

    The fact that this guy is back peddling and blaming the media tells me that he doesn’t get it.

    BTW Dawn thank you for your website and work. It’s been very helpful in educating myself.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      You’re welcome Greg. Glad you found us. You might also want to sign up for our weekly newsletter. It’s our primary means of communicating with our audience twice a week. (Upper left hand side of any page on our website.)

  9. Avatar Christie M says:

    I think he was thinking of “ideal” situations, not saying adoption is less than…. but it is the BEST choice when birth parents cannot parent.

    I don’t think he deserves so much angst, and maybe he could have worded it better…. but really… Adoption IS the best choice above abortion, above orphanages, above foster care, above neglect and abuse….

    He was thinking it is best for babies to stay with their birth families…. OF COURSE that is true in a perfect world.
    But it is NOT best, for many who wind up dead, abused, removed.
    So, while his statement was not well thought out….
    I understand what he was TRYING to say and fumbled.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Christie M., I hear you. I usually am very hesitant to pick on someone who misspeaks. As a host of a radio show/podcast, I totally understand that when everything you say is being recorded, you are bound to put your foot in your mouth on occasion. I want grace to be given to me, so I try to extend grace to others. It’s just that this case seemed like such a perfect example of what happens when you try so hard to aim at one specific group. General attacks almost always hurt the people you aim for, but often so many more.

  10. Avatar Brian says:

    I’m glad that Eastman said this for two reasons. First, he took a break from attacking my family for a few minutes to attack someone else’s family. (My husband and I have an amazing son who we adopted almost two years ago.) I get sick of having to be the political punching bag for these people.

    Second, it reveals them for what they really are: petty and hateful.

  11. Avatar Anna says:

    Great blog post. My family is not second best either-

  12. Avatar Addie says:

    What an aweful position for him to put Justice Roberts in as well.

  13. Avatar Heather says:

    And I started to compose a response similar to MFT’s, however she/he Says it so well also I won’t rewrite it either. Just want to say that I totally agree.

  14. Avatar Heather says:

    UGH!!! Eastman’s original statement makes my blood boil. His backpedaling, ignorant, response statement does nothing to cool me off.

    I fully agree with everything Elizabeth wrote, above me. I won’t rewrite it because she says it so well.

  15. Avatar Beth says:

    Since staying with their natal family wasn’t a choice but a decision made for them, the only 2 choices there are are temporary care ( orphanage, foster) or permanent care(adoption). Adoption is not the second best choice.

    And, going out on a limb here, 2 stable loving same sex parents are better than temporary care.

  16. Avatar Angela says:

    My husband was adopted and 35 years later we adopted our daughter to the same agency. I’d like to think we’re pretty happy.

  17. Avatar Sue says:

    Phew, sometimes I write stuff then realize that how it was in my head isn’t exactly how it reads when written down. 🙂 I know there are adoptees who feel that adoption is always second best, I’m not one of them. I’m eternally grateful to my parents and my birth mother for all of their adoption choices and facilitating what was an amazing, loving (nearly idyllic) childhood for me. The situation of my birth was just not the ideal scenario I described above, so in that case, adoption was not second best – it was the best choice for us all!

  18. Avatar Dawn S. says:

    It does and it wasn’t so much the way you had put it but I have heard in many places where some people have categorically said all adoption is second best for a child without any qualifiers attached. I am big on qualifiers to statements. LOL

  19. Avatar Sue says:

    Dawn, just to clarify, it’s not that an adoptive situation is second best for the child compared to whatever the other option may be – it is that the ideal is a child being raised by their biological parents in a happy healthy environment. But, that ideal isn’t always possible – and in that case, adoption can be an amazing wonderful option.

    Nonetheless, it would be better if there were never circumstances where a child needed to be raised by someone other than their biological parents in order to be safe, loved, healthy and well cared for – but, we know that isn’t always possible and the biological environment isn’t always better. So, my comparison wasn’t second best compared to the alternative – it was second best compared to an ideal perfect situation. Does that make sense?

  20. Avatar Dawn S. says:

    Oh wow! I am only a “hero” to my children because they are still young enough where my kiss can magically make boo-boos all better! I know my hero status will wane as they enter their teen years. Just the same as any parent. And at the risk of opposition, I don’t always believe the blanket statement that adoption is second-best for the child either. Sometimes it is and sometimes it is far, far better and probably most times somewhere in between.

  21. Avatar Rosalie says:

    Sadly No family is immune from grief or conflict or confusion….and I like to think all families have the potential for (unexpected – unpredictable) joys and thrills and comfort. In that sense, all of us, as families, have things in common no matter how we came together. It is not helpful to “stigmatize” any of these facets of family life when they happen to occur in the context of adoption. Or any other “not conventional” (whatever that means) family situation.

  22. Avatar Elizabeth says:

    I completely agree with Sue. It IS second-best for those children. Wouldn’t it be ideal if everyone could easily reproduce and everyone could be raised by their biological parents wonderfully and perfectly in a world without hunger, anger or strife? However, the ideal is rarely reality and families built by adoption are certainly NOT second-best! I’m glad he’s getting grief for stupid comments. Sheesh. :/

  23. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Kristina, did you read his statement the same way I did?

  24. Avatar Dina says:

    The best comment on Eastman and the rest of the leaders of NOM I’ve read is “May they all share a special place in history with other warm-hearted, loving Americans like George Wallace, Lester Maddox and David Duke. Their descendants will probably change their last names to distance themselves from their notorious relatives.”

  25. Avatar Tara says:

    I think your interpretation is correct. It doesn’t really give me pause, the insensitivity is typical for NOM. Same sex marriage has been an issue important to me and this organization has said and done many horrible and hateful things. This statement is benign, in comparison with their other, harmful actions they’ve taken (in my clearly biased opinion).

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Here’s a quote from The Adopted Ones blog: [I see many people still have their knickers-in-a-knot over the statement by Eastman about adoption is second-best (see the link at the end). Why? is the question I have asked myself – because as I break it down in my head – adoption is the second-best choice for a babe. The word best after second means just that, if a babe (or child) cannot stay within their natal family, the next best option is another family for the child.]

      What do you think? Is she right? Are we over reacting?

  26. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Lori, I love it!!!

  27. Such a good point about taking aim and possibly maiming folks you don’t mean to.

    Well said, Dawn!

  28. Avatar KristinaG. says:

    this gives me a stomach ache on many levels.

  29. Avatar Emily says:

    “I believe that couples who adopt children are heroes and do a great service to society, and to the children they adopt”- Eastman I think this rubs me the wrong way even more than the “second-best option” does. People build their families in different ways- ways that are best for them and any way they choose (aside from kidnapping) is the best option for them. Also people who adopt do not/should not consider themselves “heroes who do a great service to society.” They are adopting because they want children of their own. I think if anyone adopts because they want to be a child’s hero and “save” them, they are doing it for the wrong reasons.

  30. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Emily, it did seem as if he jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire, didn’t it. 🙂

  31. Avatar Sue T. says:

    The question is second best for whom? Yes, it is not ideal for a child to need adoptive parents. And, for most people, adoption is not the first choice for family building. Yet, neither of those facts makes an adoptive family second best to any other type of family.

    So, that doesn’t give anyone (especially someone outside of adoption) the right to proclaim adoptive families as basically “less than” without there being negative consequences.

  32. Avatar MFT says:

    As I posted on the Lavenderluz post: 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…

  33. Avatar Erin says:

    I’m the lucky one – to have received the gift of my amazing child. He’s an idiot and is just digging his hole deeper.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      I kind of feel sorry for him. He stuck his foot in his mouth and is having such a hard time getting it out. This situation is so rife for metaphors.

  34. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Gemma, funny you say you don’t even know where to begin. I felt that way too. I tried to begin this blog twice and kept getting bogged down trying to say too much. Finally decided the best approach was to keep it simple.

  35. Avatar Gemma says:

    I can’t even believe this. It makes me want to throw up and then all the comments on the NOM site make me want to continue throwing up. I don’t even know where you start on this.

  36. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Sue, you said it better than me.

  37. Avatar Vickie says:

    I don’t really know how to address his initial statement, there is just too much in that. However, the second statement to cover up the first bothers me so much more. How many times did he need to say mother and father in one statement. It seems like he needed to make it clear to everyone that adoption is ok because you are taking a child from a “parentless” situation and putting them with a mother and a father, to help his anti-gay marriage position. But what about single people who adopt? Are they now “third best” since there is only one parent wanting a child?

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Vickie, you raise a good point. I never hear the anti-gay adoption folks address how they see the issue of single parent adoption. Does anyone know?

Leave a Reply

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

Back to Top ↑

Content created by Creating a Family. And remember, there are no guarantees in adoption or infertility treatment. The information provided or referenced on this website should be used only as part of an overall plan to help educate you about the joys and challenges of adopting a child or dealing with infertility. Although the following seems obvious, our attorney insists that we tell you specifically that the information provided on this site may not be appropriate or applicable to you, and despite our best efforts, it may contain errors or important omissions. You should rely only upon the professionals you employ to assist you directly with your individual circumstances. CREATING A FAMILY DOES NOT WARRANT THE INFORMATION OR MATERIALS contained or referenced on this website. CREATING A FAMILY EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS LIABILITY FOR ERRORS or omissions in this information and materials and PROVIDES NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, implied, express or statutory. IN NO EVENT WILL CREATING A FAMILY BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES, including without limitation direct or indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages, losses or expenses arising out of or in connection with the use of the information or materials, EVEN IF CREATING A FAMILY OR ITS AGENTS ARE NEGLIGENT AND/OR ARE ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.