Thursday, November 05, 2009

Rights vs. right

I admit to sometimes being torn between doing what is right and defending rights. If this sounds confusing, you are in the midst of the struggle I and perhaps many endure on a regular basis when it comes to adoption and foster care in Arkansas within the boundaries of Initiated Act 1, which was adopted by Arkansas voters in 2008. Essentially the Act prohibits unmarried, co-habitating couples from adopting children or serving as foster families. I am torn between my understanding of what constitutes the Christian ideal of marriage between a man and a woman which does, in my humble estimation, better serve our society, but I am also torn against the needs of foster children in Arkansas, few of whom likely care as much about sexual politics as they care about being adopted into a family they can call their very own and finally enjoy the stability, safety, and security that such a home provides and which all children are entitled to. Add to this confusion the rights of adults to be who they are and do what they want – as long as these rights do not interfere with the rights of others, perhaps especially including the rights of children to be well cared for.

Though Initiated Act 1 does not seem to directly target homosexuals, it does seem equally clear that its intent was to prevent homosexuals from adopting children or serving as foster parents. Since homosexual marriage is not possible in Arkansas, “co-habitating” couples could be prevented from adopting or serving as foster parents, which would incidentally (or intentionally) prohibit homosexuals from being part of the process. Ironically, single persons regardless of sexual orientation can still adopt or serve as foster care givers as long as they meet the criteria. They just cannot “live in sin” while offering this care.

It is entirely a moral, if religious, issue for many, including myself, because while we can reasonably know that homosexuality does not “cause” homosexuality (they are or are not so inclined) and that homosexuals are not typically child molesters, we of certain religious traditions believe that traditional marriage between a man and a woman is a bedrock of social stability even in a society that suffers roughly half of its marriages ending in divorce. Our Creator, our God, for and about Whom we should never apologize, established the covenant of marriage long ago to serve a purpose. Even if we sometimes fail to fully understand that purpose, our tradition also requires that we fully and completely trust Him to know what is best. For us, this is not up for social debate for our God and Lord is without equal, and He does not require our opinion. He knows, and we believe that.

The ACLU has challenged the constitutionality of Initiated Act 1 because of its seeming discriminatory nature; it excludes certain segments of our society and violates the perceived rights of those certain segments. Whose rights, however, are ultimately at stake? Do mature adults have a right to adopt that precludes a child’s right to be received into a stable home environment? And exactly what harm is being done? There were 601 adoptions in Arkansas in fiscal 2009, up from 505 in 2008 and up from 404 in 2007. The arguments of opponents of Initiated Act 1 that suggest it is the children who ultimately suffer from such unconstitutional restrictions seem to fall flat when clearly adoptions seem consistently on the rise. Whether adoptions would rise even faster absent the Act’s restrictions is entirely subject to debate.

Sometimes it just seems that those who claim to be fighting for their own rights only want to know they can do something even if they never intend to. It’s sort of like folks who don’t really enjoy parties, but they do like being invited. The entire debate, however, cannot lose its focus over the core issue, which is all about the well-being and stability of children who have known nothing but instability. It is about their rights as human beings and as children who require nurturing and direction. It is not now, nor has it ever been, about adults who feel a need to be socially or legally affirmed in their chosen lifestyle. It is not about the rights of adults who can, to varying degrees, determine their own well-being.

It may be, however, that we must first firmly establish the primary issue before we can move to those issues which are secondary: the rights of adults who choose to live together outside of the bonds of marriage subordinate to whether they can provide a stable environment for children who will almost certainly require a little extra TLC. It would appear that doing what is right for the children will certainly supersede an adult’s right to do or to be.

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