This article covers adoption for queer parents. Before diving into the details of adoption – let’s first distinguish terms:
Adoption, in this context, means using legal adoption as the primary method of bringing a child into your family. The adopted child is not (usually) biologically related to the adoptive parent(s).
Second parent adoption is also relevant to many queer parents. And is its own topic entirely. Second parent adoptions are for when the child is biologically related to one parent (or has been adopted by one parent). And there’s another parent in the family who is seeking to gain full parental rights.
If your partner is pregnant (or has a child) and you’re not biologically related to the child, then you should look into second parent adoption – even if you are on the birth certificate.
Second parent adoption is a big enough topic that it deserves it’s own post, and will get one in the future. In the meantime, this post is about adoption as described above.
Recent Legal Changes
Queer people can legally adopt in the US as a single adult or married couple. But prior to 2017, states could ban queer people from adopting.
Here are some highlights of the federal cases that affected the change
- 2015 – when gay marriage was legalized by the US Supreme Court decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, many scholars considered that included protecting the right of queer married couples to adopt. That was supported by the following rulings.
Even with these national legal protections in place, queer people who want to adopt still experience discrimination in some states.
Basically on the federal level it’s illegal to ban queer people from adopting. But adoption is regulated on the state level.
Some states have enacted policies or issued rulings that allow discrimination against queer people.
In fact, according to this MAP research – 22% of LGBTQ people in the US live in a state that “permits state-licensed child welfare agencies to refuse to place and provide services to children and families, including LGBTQ people and same-sex couples, if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs.”
Even in these states that permit discrimination, there are specific cities and counties where it’s easier for queer people to adopt or gain parental custody of a child. So if you live in a conservative state, researching agencies and judges in specific localities could be helpful in your pursuit of adoption.
On the flip side, other states have increased protections for queer people in recent years. And they now have policies that prohibit agency discrimination based on the prospective parents’ queer and/or trans identities. Here’s that MAP link again for foster and adoption laws.
Ok – now for the different options queer folx have to adopt.
According to the 2020 US Census, “same-sex” couples are 4 times more likely to adopt than heterosexual couples.
Here’s a really useful guide published by the Children’s Bureau (Child Welfare) in 2021
If you are interested in adopting a child, there are 4 main options:
- Public adoption agencies (adopting through foster care)
- Private adoption agencies
- Self managed adoption
- International / transnational adoptions
Public adoption agencies
In the US it is possible to adopt a child through a public agency such as child welfare.
The process varies by state. Some states require parents adopting to go through the same training required of a foster parent. However there are usually separate tracks for fostering and adoption.
It is possible to adopt a baby from child welfare, but not as common as adopting older children.
The approval process usually includes background checks and home visits, in addition to the required training.
Click here to go to AdoptUSKids to find out more about adoption or foster care. Be sure to check out the state specific tool that will provide more information about adoption where you live.
Sidenote: Being a foster parent is another option to consider. Over 100k children are currently in foster care in the US. Queer couples are 3x more likely than hetero couples to foster children.
Private adoption agencies
Even though some faith-based agencies discriminate against queer people, there are several private adoption agencies that explicitly support queer parent adoption.
Check out these links for queer friendly adoption agencies:
Self managed adoption
Recently some newer self managed adoption services have been on the rise. Some of these are consulting services and others are similar to online dating. Birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents are matched with or without agency involvement.
This path would involve an adoption lawyer instead of an agency.
International Adoption / Transnational Adoption
Some countries do not allow queer people to adopt children, even transnationally. The US State Department has a country information look up tool where you can find out about potential adoption restrictions.
Also check out the following:
- Considering Adoption – Article on LGBT International Adoption
- Intercountry Adoption Options from US Adoption Council
Cost of Adoption
Public agency or adoption through foster care often costs under $5k. In some cases, the cost is very low and the child may be eligible for continued state assistance.
The cost of private adoption of any kind (agency, self-managed, or international) can range from approx $10k – $40k. The average cost is said to be around $30k.
- One excellent legal adoption resource is this national map from Lambda Legal.
- MAPS (Movement Advancement Project) resources page