Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Orthodox Homosexuals and Adoptions

There is a Gemarah in Shabbos (156 A) wherein the Amora, Rav Ashi tells us that if a man is destined to be a spiller of blood he will be a spiller of blood in some way, whether as a bloodletter, thief, Shochet, or Mohel. Obviously it is a far better choice to become a Shochet - a ritual slaughter of animals - than a murderer.

This has a universal application. Anyone who has a specific illicit desire should divert that energy into a positive endeavor. People who have them should not be shunned but fully accepted into all areas of society provided they re-direct their energies in positive ways. This should include raising children. People who have problematic personal issues should not necessarily be prevented from raising a family. Based on this thought - what about homosexual couples? May they adopt and raise children?

The gut reaction of many would be to say no – absolutely not. The reason they would say so is obvious. Homosexuals are living a lifestyle that is sinful and they would be bringing up a child in an environment that seems to OK it. Additionally one can argue that same sex couples deny a child a role model figures for the missing gender. How will a child understand the role of a mother if both parents are either men or women?

I think these are all legitimate points and are not simple to answer. But in my view it may very well be possible to permit a same sex couple to raise a child. This is in fact the view of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin as reported in Ynet.

I am not sure about that. But even if he’s right there would have to be several conditions attached. The couple would have to commit to living a Halachic lifestyle. Admitting that they are attracted to members of the same sex is not a sin. Only acting on it is. And there is no sin in two males or two females living in the same house and sleeping in the same bedroom at night.

The argument about role modeling is a good one too, but it falls short of being a definitive reason not to allow it. It seems obvious that - all things being equal - a two parent family where one parent is male and the other female is the ideal. But if the ideal cannot be achieved should a child be denied a warm and nurturing same sex couple if that couple does not act on their physical attraction to each other or show approval in any way of such an act?

The truth is I’m not sure of the answer to that question. Frankly I’m not sure that a homosexual couple that sleeps in the same room every night can completely refrain from ever engaging in homosexual sex. Once something like that happens, it is a deal breaker for me.

On the other hand - in theory it should be no different than permitting a Shochet to raise a family who has a predisposition to killing. As long as he doesn’t act on it or transmit that ‘value’ to his child he should be permitted. And of course there are many successful fathers who are Shochtim.

If you have two homosexual people living together who are otherwise exemplary in every other aspect of their lives, do not act upon those desires, and understand that acting on them is sinful - it might be criminal to deny a child such an otherwise warm and nurturing family. Should this one forbidden same sex proclivity be more of a deal breaker than a proclivity for any other sin?

Is a person who commits a public fraud or cheats on his taxes but is otherwise an exemplary parent any better role model for a child? I can hear an argument that such a person is worse. He not only has a forbidden predisposition, he acts on it! And often he will rationalize it away!

I have tremendous sympathy for people with sinful predilections. But as long as they don’t re-invent Halacha and acknowledge that those predilections - were they to act upon them - are sinful, they should be treated no differently then anyone else no matter what their predilections are - whether it is for murder, homosexual sex, or anything else.

God gives every human being Nisyonos -challenges in life. The Omnipotent One knows each man’s weaknesses and will challenge him in that way. The Gemarah is replete with stories about how the sages were tempted each with their own personal challenges and almost transgressed cardinal sins. They of course overcame them. But tempted – they were. And we who are not as great as the sages are certainly challenged – each in our own way. We either overcome to those temptations or we succumb.

But having weaknesses as the Gemarah demonstrates is not what is forbidden. That is just a function of human nature. It is in overcoming challenges to those weaknesses that we are judged. The same thing is equally true for a gay person or a straight one. The challenge for a homosexual is to find ways to re-direct those forbidden desires so that they not succumb to them – just as the potential murderer does by choosing to become a Shochet.

Again, I do not necessarily approve of an otherwise exemplary gay couple raising a child. I think the subject is too complex for a flippant answer one way or the other. But it is definitely food for thought.