In an interview with the New York Times published on Sunday John McCain stated that "I don't believe in gay adoption." That morning I blogged here about this statement, calling for a clarification from the McCain campaign about whether he really opposes all adoptions by gay individuals and couples. It seemed to me unlikely that that was really his view and that, in the context of the culture war, he was really expressing a preference for opposite-sex adoptions.
Today the McCain campaign issued a statement on gay adoptions, sent to Andrew Sullivan's blog:
McCain could have been clearer in the interview in stating that his position on gay adoption is that it is a state issue, just as he made it clear in the interview that marriage is a state issue. He was not endorsing any federal legislation.
McCain’s expressed his personal preference for children to be raised by a mother and a father wherever possible. However, as an adoptive father himself, McCain believes children deserve loving and caring home environments, and he recognizes that there are many abandoned children who have yet to find homes. McCain believes that in those situations that caring parental figures are better for the child than the alternative. - Jill Hazelbaker, Director of Communications
We could quibble over whether this statement is really a clarification or a retreat. In any event, it's welcome. First, McCain properly affirms that this is a state, not federal, matter. Second, whereas before McCain suggested that it's always best for children to be raised by mothers and fathers, he now acknowledges this often won't be possible since "there are many abandoned children who have yet to find homes." Third, the seeming insistence on opposite-sex adoptions is replaced by what the campaign calls "loving and caring home environments" and "caring parental figures." It's the kind of language about families I would expect to see in a law review article written by a gay activist.
It's not perfect. It doesn't explicitly state that McCain "favors gay adoptions" in some circumstances. It tries to mollify religious conservatives by indicating McCain's "personal preference" for a mother and father in adoptions. (That effort failed: the anti-gay Family Research Council is now concerned that McCain is "muddying the waters" of his earlier opposition to gay adoptions.)
While the new statement could have been clearer in repudiating McCain's earlier answer on the issue, it does accomplish a couple of important things. It makes it clear that McCain is not opposed to adoption by gay individuals. That was in any event a politically untenable stand since only Florida prohibits adoptions by all homosexual individuals. And McCain's new statement suggests that adoption by homosexual couples is preferable to leaving children in foster care. If so, that's a more ambitious stand in favor of gay parenting, since such "second parent" adoptions are now permitted in only some jurisdictions in about half the states. On the whole, unlike the seemingly hard line he took against gay adoption on Sunday, today's statement is more nuanced and is defensible given the current state of the social science on gay parenting.