Will Gay Adoption Be A Bigger Problem For The GOP In 2016 Than Gay Marriage?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting, Saturday, May 16, 2015, at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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While the country waits for a Supreme Court decision next month on gay marriage, the Republican presidential field is still grappling with gay adoption — which is much more widely accepted by the American public than gay marriage is. None of the major GOP presidential contenders has voiced support for allowing gay adoption, and some remain opposed, even as the prevalence of gay adoption and broadening support for it has made the practice commonplace.

So far, the field of likely or declared 2016 Republican candidates have fallen into two categories: most have tried to stay essentially mum on the top but others — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)— have argued that same-sex couples should not be allowed to adopt.

A compilation of statements of the roughly dozen likely or declared 2016 GOP candidates provided to TPM by the pro-gay rights advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign showed that no candidate this cycle has expressed support for gay adoption in the face of trends showing public support.

“I would just hope that candidates, Democrat or Republican, would say that when it comes to adoption they support children being in stable homes,” said Gregory T. Angelo, a spokesman for the pro-gay Log Cabin Republicans, in an interview with TPM.

Polling shows increasing support for allowing gay couples to adopt, actually at a faster clip than support for gay marriage.

“Adoption polling generally polls better than same-sex marriage,” University of California at Los Angeles demographer Gary Gates, who specializes in lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender populations, told TPM. There are a few reasons for this, Gates explained.

“Adoption law in the United States is largely not even at the state level. It really happens in individual courtrooms —many states don’t have very explicit guidelines of dos and don’ts about who can adopt,” Gates said, adding “even in places in this country that were relatively conservative you could find judges who would be willing to allow adoption and that meant that there were same-sex couples adopting and parenting all across the country.” That has, Gates argued, helped boost support for gay adoption.

The Log Cabin Republicans’ Angelo said that some Republican candidates seem to be avoiding addressing the adoption question outright. But they imply they are opposed by saying the ideal family situation is when a child is raised by a mother and a father.

“You might find a number of candidates that have said ‘I believe that families consisting of one father and one mother are the best to which to raise children’ but I don’t know that that has been translated to ask that they would support same-sex parent adoptions,” Angelo said.

It’s unclear how the gay adoption question will play out in the 2016 cycle. Angelo suspected it could be the “the next question” for GOPers to grapple with.

Gates, the demographer, is a bit more cautious.

“I think it’s a still an unknown how all of this will play out. The standard argument of why this hasn’t played out is there’s still enough resistance in the Republican primary system,” Gates said. “I think we’ll see in this round of primaries if that’s still the case. That that’s a wedge issue in the Republican primaries.”

For the two GOP presidential hopefuls from Florida — Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio — the issue has particular relevance because their state banned gay adoptions until as late as 2010, when state courts struck it down.

Buzzfeed recently noted that while Florida Republicans in the state legislature were arguing about ways to reinstate the gay adoption ban, Rubio was conspicuously silent. That’s despite Rubio having previously argued against gay adoption.

“Some of these kids are the most disadvantaged in the state,” Rubio said in 2006, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “They shouldn’t be forced to be part of a social experiment.”

Bush was on the record publicly opposing gay adoption while governor. “If you’re going to have permanency, it should be with a loving couple that is a man and a wife. That is the law of this land, it’s in the courts, but I also believe that personally,” Bush said in 2002 during a gubernatorial debate.

Earlier this year, Bush issued a statement to Politifact reiterating his position. “Previously, I opposed gay adoption, but it has since become the law in our state, and I respect that decision,” Bush said in January.

But Politifact also noted that Bush’s language at other times has shown signs of softening on gay adoptions, for example during this 2012 interview with Charlie Rose.

I think traditional marriage is what should be sanctioned and not at the expense of discriminating in other forms of family structure. … So I don’t support it, but I would say that wholesome loving family life ought to be kind of the organizing principle in a free society. If we don’t want to have government overwhelm us, then we have to be self-governing. … And if people love their children with all their heart and soul, and that’s what they do, and that’s how they organized their life, that should be held up as examples for others to follow, because we need it. We desperately need it, and that can take all sorts of forms. It doesn’t have to take the one that I think should be sanctioned under the law.

More recently, in an interview with The Brody File published Sunday, Bush didn’t address gay adoptions specifically but said that in order to raise “people —particularly children born in poverty” up “we have to restore committed, loving family life with a mom and a dad loving their children…” He went on to say “irrespective” of how the Supreme Court rules in a gay marriage case that could wipe out bans across the country at once, “we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage.”

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