Monday, December 17, 2018

Adoption Stories: Think of the Children


According to Facebook, my status ten years ago was “Roger is about to have twins.”

About the same time, the New York Times published an article under the headline “In Studies of Virtual Twins, Nature Wins Again.” Technically my daughters don’t meet researchers’ definition of “virtual twins,” although it’s a useful shorthand for their situation. Even though Rosalind and Eleanor were born just two weeks apart, they weren’t raised together during their first year of life.

Eleanor got a head start. She came to us after a providential referral from friends, in what our excellent family lawyer Raegan Rasnic described as the smoothest adoption she’d ever seen. I was in the delivery room to watch Eleanor’s birth. She’s been spoiled rotten by two gay dads ever since.

In contrast, Rosalind arrived in our family three and a half years later, from the Washington State foster system.


My daughter Rosalind gave me permission to share a little bit of her early history. She went into the foster system before she was a year old, after investigators from Child Protective Services found evidence of serious neglect. Next she spent over a year with a married heterosexual couple who’d been fostering needy children for many years.

All the State social workers loved these foster parents. They seemed so devoted to the various children placed in their home. Unfortunately, they had a rare but distinctive mental disorder:  "Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome." It’s seen in caregivers who fabricate or cause an illness or injury in a person under their care in order to win attention and praise for themselves.

1The related diagnosis of “Munchausen Syndrome” applies to individuals who repeatedly act as if they have a physical or mental disorder, after actually causing their own symptoms. Both disorders are named after an eighteen century German baron who told exaggerated stories about his military exploits.

Rosalind came to us with a file from Seattle Children’s Hospital that’s a foot thick. Doctors tested to see if she was deaf, blind, autistic, you name it. Rosalind also showed up in multiple emergency rooms with a suspicious pattern of bad health.

When the State finally took away her foster parents' license, the social workers placed Rosalind with another married heterosexual couple. They already had two biological children, a young boy and girl. I’ve seen a video clip of the family together for some holiday. Rosalind is awkwardly toddling around in a velvet dress.

After three or four months, Ozzie and Harriet handed Rosalind back to the State. She wasn’t perfect enough for their family. So, as with many challenging foster placements, the State’s desperate and over-extended social workers finally turned to the gays.


Rosalind’s birth name wasn’t a good fit for our family. She had a trendy modern name that was already being used by a male cousin. Instead, we looked for another distinctive name like “Eleanor” that would be old-fashioned but not weird, and represent strong women. As I wrote in “Adoption Stories: How Eleanor Got Her Middle Name,” the name “Rosalind” resonated with Rosalind Russell, who played the iconic Auntie Mame, as well as with the brilliant heroine of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Rosalind’s name is also a link to her past, because her original middle name was “Rose.” That meant we had to come up with another middle name. We chose “Grace.” When we met her as a gawky three-and-a-half-year-old, Rosalind’s new middle name was a little aspirational. But it also reflected our gratitude for the privilege of sharing a family. Now it captures her teenaged poise and charm.


grew up Mormon, and my ex comes from a family of Lutheran school teachers. Our daughter Eleanor has embraced the community at the local Lutheran church. Each year Eleanor looks forward to attending Lutheran summer camps in Idaho and Washington. 

In contrast, my other two children have not exhibited a religious bent. Recently I overheard Oliver telling one of his online video game teammates, “Heaven and hell are myths. When you die you just sleep forever.” 

I support all my children, regardless of their eschatology. [Ed. Note: Eschatology is "the branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind."] I promise I won’t disown anyone. Even if they turn out Mormon.


Recently I shared a comic anecdote from my Mormon mission in Korea thirty-five years ago. I’ve reached a healthy place where I appreciate the many good things my Mormon heritage gave me.

On the other hand, I remain outraged by some Mormon leaders’ recent homophobic statements, as well as by the church’s failure to acknowledge the harm caused by its prior actions. These evils include not only decades of hate speech over the pulpit and in private “worthiness” interviews, but also sins like subjecting gay BYU students to electroshock therapy, and illegally funneling tithing dollars into Proposition 8’s campaign against marriage equality in California.

Unlike the Mormons’ ban on ordaining blacks, finally lifted in 1978, the Mormon church’s anti-LGBT bias is no relic of the past. I'm living proof. Mormon church leaders not only caused my original trauma three decades ago, but they also helped trigger the strange new PTSD symptoms that disabled me three years ago.

In November 2015, just as I was struggling to understand my body’s debilitating reaction to a toxic work environment, news reports emerged of the Mormon church’s vindictive response to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality rulings. Mormons don't believe in infant baptism. Instead, they place the “age of accountability” at eight years old. Getting baptized is a big deal for any Mormon child. Nevertheless, in November 2015, the church issued a policy denying baptism to all children of married gay couples. Just the legally married ones – not gay single dads or couples living in sin, as we used to call cohabitation.

In a Washington Post op-ed commentary about the new Mormon policy, my longtime civil rights colleague and former Utah neighbor Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called it "repugnant and deeply stigmatizing." Like Kate, I thought I had made my peace with the Mormons long ago. Nevertheless, family and friends remarked at my over-the-top reaction when news broke about the church's new baptism policy. Even after deleting all the original ranting, my own Facebook response at the time was pretty damning:

The Gospel of Matthew describes an occasion when Jesus’ disciples, like paparazzi-weary security guards, attempted to block a group of little children from coming to hear the Master. Jesus rebuked his own disciples, saying with uncharacteristic harshness that “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Matt. 18:6.

In their public statement defending the leaked policy of denying baptism to the children of married gay couples, the Mormon Church said “We regard same-sex marriage as a particularly grievous or particularly significant, serious kind of sin.” Because of this stance, they refuse to allow children with approving but married gay parents to follow Christ into the waters of baptism – out of a “desire to protect children in their innocence.” 

The ludicrousness of the assertion that a couple’s public affirmation of commitment to each other is a more grievous sin than murder, rape, or child abuse speaks for itself. In the face of Christ’s actual statements about children, it is breathtaking.


In “Adoption Stories: A Loving Christian Family,” I wrote about the married heterosexual woman who adopted a boy she didn’t want, so she could block the State from placing him with our gay family. This was not an isolated homophobic incident. Lawyers for the Catholic church are in court fighting for the right to exclude LGBT families from their taxpayer-funded foster services. Among the many horrors inflicted by the Trump Administration, their campaign against the transgender community stands out for its cruelty. But the appointment of patently unqualified and unapologetically homophobic federal judges may ultimately do the most harm to LGBTQ individuals and families. 

In their insidious Mormon-funded television commercials, the Prop 8 campaign urged voters to “Think of the Children.” The message of fear and hate was enough to narrowly pass Prop 8 in November 2008, even as California voters also embraced Barack Obama and hope.

The next time you hear someone argue “every child needs a heterosexual mother and father,” don’t “think of the children.” Think of my amazing daughter Rosalind.



Click here for more episodes of Adoption Stories.




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