Unfortunately, the history of same-sex adoption is rather brief — but not for lack of interest or desire to adopt by hopeful LGBT parents. History has not treated LGBT individuals kindly and, therefore, their ability to adopt — and even get married — is a very recent development. In fact, most of the important moments in the history of gay adoption have only happened in the last 40 years.
Before the 1970s and 1980s (when the gay rights movement really began to take hold), homosexuality was something that was rarely discussed and even illegal in some places. Therefore, it was near impossible for LGBT parents to adopt or even raise children without great difficulty. Many LGBT individuals ended up having children through heterosexual marriages but, if they came out and left that marriage, they would likely lose custody of their child, as well. When LGBT families did exist, it was because of great secrecy and care taken to protect them from those who would interfere. Add to that the secrecy surrounding adoption in general, and you can see why gay adoption history is scarce until the second half of the 20th century.
It wasn’t until the civil rights era of the 1970s and 1980s that the history of gay adoption and gay civil rights in general really started to mark monumental events. As LGBT individuals began to fight for their right to marry and have children, they also faced discrimination from heterosexual and homosexual individuals alike. However, as it became more common to see LGBT families with children, societal views began to shift toward the positive.
In the 1980s and 1990s, many LGBT individuals started having children through fertility services like insemination and surrogacy. However, it remained illegal for many same-sex couples to adopt a child together because they could not get married (many states’ adoption requirements for couples include being married). For those who did adopt a child, they had to do so on their own after finding a professional who was open to placing a child with an LGBT individual or couple.
While views of LGBT families began to improve during this time, it wasn’t until the new millennium that landmark moments in the history of same-sex adoption were achieved.
How Two Court Cases Changed the History of Gay Adoption in the U.S.
The first step towards equality in gay adoption came as individual states passed laws to make homosexual marriage legal, with Massachusetts becoming the first state to do so in 2003. However, it took until 2015 before a case was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging laws against gay marriage in the entire United States. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the federal court ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, making it legal across all 50 states for same-sex couples to finally get married.
While it was a celebratory ruling for all LGBT individuals who wanted to get married, it also held a special significance for those hoping to adopt children. Many LGBT couples could not adopt a child jointly due to marriage requirements in their state; now that they could get married, there was no legal reason that they could not adopt a child together.
Unfortunately, other states had laws that were more specific, banning all LGBT couples from adopting a child, no matter their marital status. But, in protecting LGBT individuals’ right to marriage, the federal ruling was also applied to these specific laws. In 2016, a federal judge struck down a Mississippi law banning adoption by same-sex couples. This federal decision blocked one of the last legal obstructions to same-sex couples hoping to adopt.
Today, thanks to these federal rulings, same-sex couples’ right to adopt child, either married or individually, is protected throughout the United States. And, while the history of same-sex adoption has come a long way, there still remain obstacles for LGBT would-be adoptive parents, like religious freedom bills that allow faith-based organizations to discriminate against LGBT people. Despite these challenges, LGBT adoption in the United State is more possible than ever — and, as LGBT individuals keep turning to adoption, it has become a normal, beautiful way to create a family.