Adoption among gay and lesbian couples has never been more common or more socially accepted. As of February 2013, an estimated 16,000 same-sex couples are raising more than 22,000 adopted children in the United States, according to The Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA Law that is dedicated to research on sexual orientation and public policy.
Still, gay and lesbian couples looking to adopt face unique challenges and deep-seated prejudices that continue to exist in some agencies and individuals, even as private and government organizations are making strides to ensure that adoption policies are fair.
If you have decided to adopt, keep these tips in mind as you navigate the adoption process:
Same-sex couples that want to have children have a variety of options to research and consider. "Should you pursue private domestic adoption or public domestic adoption such as through the foster care system? Do you prefer an infant or are you open to an older child?" says Abbie Goldberg, an associate professor of psychology at Clark University and author of LGBT-Parent Families. "Do you feel willing and able to adopt transracially or do you prefer to adopt a child that is of the same race? What level of contact with the birth family are you open to, if any?"
Seeking out others who have adopted can help you understand the various options and their potential impact on the child and your family. Additionally, input from close friends and family members who know you well can help you determine your strengths and weaknesses as a couple.
"Being honest with yourself about your strengths and limitations can be very important in helping you to find the right match for your family," Goldberg says.
Adoption for same-sex couples is legal in all 50 states, but adoptions laws vary state by state (and sometimes even by county) so it's vital to find out the policies for same-sex adoption in your area. This is especially true when it comes to joint adoption, when two parents adopt a child together, and stepparent adoption.
Start your researching your state's laws with the help of the Movement Advancement Project (MAP). Their site lets you search state-by-state to learn the rules for adoption by gay and lesbian individuals and couples.
Although all state agencies will place children with individual gays and lesbians, Dr. Brodzinsky says, that doesn't mean that they are equally gay-friendly. "The atmosphere that the adopted family experiences when they go to adopt a child is extraordinarily important," he says. "Regardless of your sexual orientation, you want your desire to adopt to be respected during the evaluation process."
To find out about an adoption agency's experience with and treatment of same-sex couples, Goldberg suggests checking the organization's mission statement for an explicit antidiscrimination clause about placing children with same-sex couples.
Also check out the stock photos used in brochures, posters, and on the website, Goldberg suggests. Are same-sex couples portrayed, or only heterosexual adoptive couples? Of course, the best way to find out about a local agency is by word of mouth. Ask for recommendations within the LGBT community for adoption agencies that work fairly with all those seeking adoption.
The adoption process, raising a child, and living as a same-sex couple all offer their own challenges. Do all three together and you'll find that getting support from a group of like-minded individuals is very beneficial, says Carolyn Berger, a licensed clinical social worker and chair of the American Fertility Association Adoption Advisory Council.
"You'll have a group of people on your journey with you, which is hugely helpful because there can be so many questions," she says. Connecting with other same-sex couples that are adopting can provide support vital for you, your child, and your family as a whole.
Check for support groups run by local adoption agencies, LGBT advocacy groups, and fertility clinics.
Although American birth mothers tend to prefer heterosexual, married applicants in their 30s, not all of them think alike.
Jim Emery and Charlie Spiegel, both San Francisco lawyers, decided to adopt in 1985. They first considered China until they learned that they'd have to hide their relationship. Then the couple began looking domestically. Their first match fell through, but finally, their attorney called with a birth mother who was willing to make an adoption plan with a gay family. Today, the couple's daughter, Nora, is 7.
"Every woman who selects a placement for her child is guided by her own personal life and values," Emery says.
Many countries outside the U.S. bar single men and gays from adopting at all. However, they may also limit adoptions by straight single women. Age can be another obstacle, as most countries have a cutoff for adoptive parents somewhere between 40 and 55. But perseverance can pay off.
Maro Chermayeff, a single New Yorker, was 38 when she decided to adopt from China. The day she walked into her first adoption agency, China instituted an agency-by-agency quota on single-women applicants. In New York, her wait could have been seven years.
So Chermayeff went to an agency in Idaho, where far fewer single women were waiting to adopt. She moved to the top of the agency's list, and 17 months later, her daughter Su Huai came home with her.
"I never imagined she'd be so smart, happy, and healthy," Chermayeff says.