Union University
Union University Dept of Language


Adopting "The Right" Legislation

Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

February 18, 2009 - Tennessee Senator Paul Stanley (R-Memphis) recently introduced a bill in the Tennessee Legislature that, if passed, would make it illegal for unmarried “cohabiting” couples to adopt children. Despite explicit language to the contrary, the bill has been decried by gay and lesbian advocacy groups as primarily a surreptitious way to make adoption by homosexual couples illegal. In light of what Stanley is on record as saying, these groups are probably right.

Undoubtedly, Christians will agree with the underlying reasons for Stanley’s legislation. From the standpoint of both Scripture and historic, Christian orthodoxy, lifelong monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is the normative paradigm for familial life. That this is so is reflected in the primeval, unspoiled context in which God issues his command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) – a point reinforced by the teaching of Christ (see Matthew 19:4-6). St. Paul teaches that sexual relationships falling outside this paradigm are the fruit (and perhaps even the consequence) of underlying disorder – of the spoiling of Shalom (Romans 1:18-32). Thus, Christians cannot, in good conscience, support public policies that actively perpetuate or directly reinforce as “normal” those patterns of life that embody a deep disfigurement of human nature – of the way God intended human life to be.

Still, one might legitimately question whether this particular public policy proposal is the best means both of expressing a commitment to those values and of seeking to shape public life in a way that is consistent with them. The contention is a matter of prudence, not principle. And from the standpoint of prudence, there are reasons for thinking that this particular piece of legislation, while no doubt well-intentioned, is not crafted wisely.

Importantly, the bill defines “cohabiting” as “residing with another person and being involved in a sexual relationship with that person.” The definition is conjunctive. Consequently, in order to fall afoul of the envisioned law, a couple, whether heterosexual or homosexual, must not only be living under the same roof, but also “living in sin” – so to speak. In theory, this provides a legal loophole for unmarried couples, who are living but not sleeping together, to adopt children.

If we take Stanley at his word, the whole point of the legislation is to safeguard the state’s interest in providing “stable,” healthy homes for children in need of adoption – homes that include a married father and mother. But this is precisely what the bill fails to do in not restricting adoption to married couples alone (where marriage is defined by the state’s constitution and laws).

This exposes the bill to a potentially damaging charge. Specifically, it appears that the bill’s expressed concern for the well-being of children in need of adoption is merely a ruse. It’s a vehicle through which to advance a piece of legislation that arbitrarily singles out one kind of disordered “familial” relationship as being unfit for adoptive parenting while countenancing others, similarly disordered, as worthy of being protected by law.

Of course, Stanley would likely deny this – suggesting, as the bill itself does, that this is about what’s in the “child’s best interest.” But it’s worth asking why a bill that is so clearly grounded in the essential goodness of heterosexual marriage as the proper normative context for raising children does not simply make marriage a requirement for adoption. Perhaps it’s because doing so would force Christians to face their complicity in the “normalization” of other kinds of profoundly disordered familial relationships that while perhaps not as grotesque as homosexual partnerships are similarly destructive of a child’s flourishing.