Russia Wants to Ban Same-Sex Foreign Adoptions to Protect Children From “Trauma”

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave orders to the Supreme Court to make changes to Russian adoption laws in order to prevent same-sex foreign couples from adopting Russian children. Since same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Russia, it’s already impossible for same-sex couples to adopt within the country; but because a gay marriage bill may soon be passed by the French Senate and France recently voted to legalize same-sex adoptions, the Russian President is afraid that if he doesn’t do something, it’ll only be a matter of time before there’ll be lots of gay French couples lining up to adopt Russian children. And this, he believes, will be nothing short of psychologically traumatizing for Russian children.

Russian President Vladimir Putin via

Russian President Vladimir Putin via

Of course, there have been multiple studies showing that (surprise, surprise!) there is absolutely nothing inherently traumatizing about being raised by two moms or two dads. Unfortunately, I don’t think President Vladmir Putin has read about how children raised by lesbian couples are just fine and you’re not going to be psychologically damaged simply because your family doesn’t adhere to the one mother, one father, two-and-a-half kids, etc. model.

As evidence that same-sex families are bad for kids, President Putin is citing the case of Yegor Shabatalov, a Russian orphan who was adopted by an American lesbian couple who divorced and are now fighting over Shabatalov. Obviously, this situation hasn’t been good for Yegor Shabatalov; but if anything, it just shows that like heterosexual couples, homosexual couples are far from perfect. Yego Shabatalov’s adoptive parents didn’t split up and fight over him because they’re *gasp* two women; they divorced because sometimes relationships don’t work. It’s unfortunate and sad that poor Yegor was caught in the middle of it, but it is by no means evidence that being adopted by a same-sex couple isn’t good for a child.

Over the past twenty years, there have been around 60,000 Russian children adopted by American families, and at least twenty have died because of mistreatment or accidents. Because of these statistics and many Russian diplomats’ beliefs that the U.S justice system isn’t adequately protecting Russian children in American homes, come January 2014, all American families (gay and straight) will no longer be able to adopt Russian children. While it’s understandable to prioritize the safety of children, since the majority of adoptive parents (and Americans in general) are heterosexual, I’m guessing most of the American couples who adopted those 60,000 children were heterosexual. Again, there is no link between between a child’s safety or well-being and the sexual orientation of his or her parents. It really doesn’t make sense to implement legislation that will ban French and other European same-sex couples from adopting Russian orphans.

via queerty

via queerty

The Russian government has made it clear that it will not recognize French or British same-sex couples as legitimate, and the head of the ‘All-Russian Parents’ Assembly wants to take legislation a step further and ban all foreign adoptions because it is “technically difficult to verify the adoptive parents’ sexual orientation and their legal status can be marriage of convenience.”

Though President Vladimir Putin wants the ban on foreign same-sex adoption to come into effect by July 1st of this year, it may take longer to be decided if it will only be same-sex couples or all foreign couples who’ll be banned from adopting Russian children.

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  1. I cringed when I read the title of this article. As a Russian adoptee it’s been really difficult to read the headlines lately about how homophobic and regressive my homeland has become. It really saddens me that so many Russian children will be stuck in orphanages because of this stupid political game that Putin is trying to play. I always had a fantasy of adopting from Russia myself when I decide to settle down and make a family. I guess that won’t be happening any time in the next 10-20 years.

  2. autostraddle. i love you but get stuff together. the banning of ALL foreign adoption – the Russian government’s response to the Magnitsky Act – precedes the idea of banning same-sex foreign couples’ adoption by far, and is far more likely.

    while gross homophobic rhetoric and legislation has been distressingly rampant in the Russian legislature the past few years, the reason that an awesome gay couple in the US wouldn’t be able to adopt a child isn’t because they’re gay, it’s because Putin signed a bill BANNING ALL US ADOPTIONS on December 28th.

    while a discussion about the future of adoption from Russia for other countries (a ban on all foreign adoption is likely, but a ban on all foreign same-sex adoption is also possible) is good too, it doesn’t seem like this article is aware of all of the facts. :( please do a little more research when writing a story about my beloved and troubled home country. ilu.

    • hi! thank you for your comment. I did mention in my article that American couples won’t be able to adopt Russian children, and it’s because of safety concerns, not because of Putin’s comments on same-sex couples. Putin’s homophobia threatens to impact European same-sex couples seeking to adopt, not American ones;

      From the article:
      “Over the past twenty years, there have been around 60,000 Russian children adopted by American families, and at least twenty have died because of mistreatment or accidents. Because of these statistics and many Russian diplomats’ beliefs that the U.S justice system isn’t adequately protecting Russian children in American homes, come January 2014, all American families (gay and straight) will no longer be able to adopt Russian children.”

    • There is a difference between banning all international adoptions and banning all adoptions to the US.
      Russia did the latter.

    • But doesn’t the Hague Convention also play a role? My partner and I adopted our children from our same city in the US, but when we started exploring adoption, we were told that we’d have to lie to adopt from various countries because of the Hague convention – that we’d have to adopt as a single person (on of us). This was 2004.

      That didn’t feel right with us AND we really wanted relationships with our children’s birth mothers (that didn’t happen but we still hold out hope that one day they will be in our lives), so we chose domestic adoption where we had a social worker and our birth mothers had individual social workers and counseling (which can continue for live).

      Any way, I think what is happening right now with Russia is as lot of rhetoric about something that has been in place for years and years.


  3. I can’t speak for what the recent laws are (although I’m almost certain they’re the same) but same sex couples have never been allowed to pursue international adoption in Russia. When I adopted my daughter in 1998, I knew several US same sex couples where one of the couple adopted as a single parent and then the other partner co-adopted the child when they were back in the states when they did domestic readoption.

    The well-being of the children is of utmost importance and they shouldn’t be used as political pawns or as objects of revenge by a corrupt administration like Putin’s who loves to pander to rightwing Russian nationalists whenever possible. However, I also put a lot of blame for this situation getting this far on the adoption industry and US social services which don’t do nearly enough to support adoptive parents bringing what are frequently children with special needs into their families and require backup and ongoing resources to deal with kids who are not infrequently traumatized by their birth family situations, being institutionalized and then dealing with all the complications of a new family (or often, their only family), new culture, language, etc. Adopting a post-institutionalized child can require a steep and stressful learning curve and it’s a lot more than just love or growing up in a middle-class environment. And Stacy, I really hope you get the opportunity to fulfill your dream someday… I have no doubt you’ll have a lot of amazing experience to share with your child.

    • Thank you so much for your comments! I am an adult adoptee, and I am friends with several people who’ve adopted from Russian and Chinese institutions in the last 15 years. You stated so eloquently what I can’t even begin to articulate.

      I have a lot of feelings about adoption and the lack of support for kids and parents who are dealing with the challenges that accompany adoption. I am a survivor of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of unprepared but, ultimately very selfish, alcoholic adoptive parents. In the course of addressing my own wounds and challenges, I have gained a relatively deep understanding of the breadth of issues faced by adoptive parents and their kids.

      Naturally, I worry most about the kids because they are fundamentally powerless. And I want them to know that they’re beautiful and lovable just as they are. Unfortunately, being rejected for being oneself is often an overwhelming element of queer and trans* life experience, but it’s compounded in the case of adopted kids who haven’t formed healthy attachments.

      I continue to try to support my friends and their kids by sharing resources and knowledge, but as a individual you can only do so much. And as a friend, it’s important to respect your friends’ wishes and autonomy, even if they are doing something that is (unintentionally) hurting their kids. That’s why a need for professionals exists. But both my friends and I have found that many professional therapists lack a grounding in issues related to adoption. Furthermore, the expense of therapy often puts it far beyond the means of a single parent or parents who are scraping to get by like so many of us.

      It’s plain that there’s a huge need for more resources and more support for adoptive parents and their kids, particularly for those families that include kids who’ve lived in institutions that denied them the chance to form healthy attachments. Parenting is challenging enough as it is.

      What makes me furious is that the people who scream “Think of the Children!” only do so in support of their own selfish objectives. They are using powerless kids to advance their own agendas. And at the same time, they are actively fighting to reduce the opportunities that would allow adopted and foster kids a chance to thrive. Not just survive. It makes me sick. And I read about it almost every day. What chance do a bunch of infants and toddlers have against Vladimir Putin and the Vatican?

  4. I’m no big fan of Putin or of stupidly homophobic adoption laws / regulations, but other countries in the region (e.g. Belarus, Romania) have been banning international adoptions in the last few years because the system is abused so much, it’s clearly not just Putin not liking Americans / queer couples.

    • Yeah, it’s really horrifying that the system has been abused so much! I couldn’t believe the number of Russian children who had died because of accidents in their adoptive parents’ homes over the past 20 years. I think it would be really interesting (and probably really sad) to look into the adoption statistics from some of the countries you mentioned – like Belarus and Romania – that probably impacted their decisions to ban international adoptions. It’s just too bad that Putin made those comments about kids in same-sex households being psychologically traumatized because as you point out, there’s clearly other legitimate factors affecting the well-being of children.

    • Including Belarus as an example of why countries are banning international adoption is bad reasoning. 1) Belurus has literally never had much international adoption and only a very small number of children have ever come from that country; 2) Belarus is controlled by Alexander Lukashenko, who is literally a old school dictator and very much a nationalist (and it’s largely conservative nationalist parties who are against any form of international adoption even though they have zero interest in really supporting domestically unadoptable children). Belarus is one of the least free countries in Europe. That said, most countries in Eastern Europe have, at some time, re-evaluated their international adoption policies either because of corruption in the system (as with all parts of those societies) but, more often, because of jingoistic national pride public relations. A large percentage of the children in Romania are of Romany background and don’t have a chance in hell being domestically adopted in that country.

      • If you look into disruption numbers, it’s even more horrifying. Up to (and according to some studies, over) 25% of adoptions from Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria have ended in disruption. I know of four cases, personally, from during my time in foster care. It’s disgusting and honestly makes me livid.
        There needs to be a universal standard for home studies (which, unfortunately, there’s not. Not even close.), and the marketing of adoption needs to change drastically, especially among Christian circles. Adoption isn’t to rescue a child. A savior complex isn’t going to do anybody good and often leads to these disruptions.
        Romania, actually, did a MAJOR overhaul of their child care practices after they shut their doors to adoption to the US, and their domestic adoption numbers went up.
        There’s just SO much corruption in adoption, ESPECIALLY when the States is involved, that I’m hoping the closing of Russia’s doors to the US will allow Russia to focus on fixing at least a little bit of the issues involved in everything.
        It’s important to point out, again, that the US is not the only foreign receiving country when it comes to Russia. In terms of non-white children, European countries actually have a better record of being open-minded in their adoptions. For instance, the US sends out quite a few black and black/white babies to European countries every year. Fascinating stuff.

      • It’s a bit ridiculous to say that bans on international adoptions happen because of ‘jingoistic national pride public relations’ when the main reason why the ban was passed in Romania was because the EU put enormous pressure on the government, going as far as to say they’ll block Romania’s accession if international adoptions aren’t banned. The idea that there are thousands of adoptable children in Romania whom nobody wants is a lie, Romanians who want to adopt have to be put on long waiting lists – currently there are ~800 adoptable children in the system and ~1,300 families waiting to adopt.* This is why international adoption agencies used to hound poor single mothers in maternities to try to convince them to sell their new born infants, they had no other way to met the demand for adoptable children coming from the West. Nobody’s saying that Lukashenko, Putin, Iliescu etc aren’t horrible, oppressive political leaders with nationalist agendas, but you only have to have a very small shred of decency to want to prevent child abuse.

        * There are more than ~800 institutionalized children in Romania, but most of them are not adoptable because a) they’re living with foster families or b) they’re institutionalized because of disabilities – and, obviously, we should be working towards the complete deinstitutionalisation of people with disabilities, but opening up international adoptions in itself is not going to achieve that. I’m going off statistics on the website of the Romanian Office for Adoptions ( which are unfortunately not translated into English (so use Google translate or just trust me?).

        • Yes, a lot of what’s going on with international adoption has as much to do with nationalistic politics and saving face as with any child welfare issues. I’ve met people from the Russian department of education which is responsible for the orphanage system and they’ve said as much. And the dirty secret Putin and others don’t talk about is that the death rate among Russian children domestically adopted is astronomical:

          “Statistics from the Moscow office of Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman, which state that between 1991 and 2005, 1220 children had died while in the care of Russian adoptive parents.” (the Moscow News)

          This thread was not about Romania, but… when you talk about children who are waiting for domestic adoptions there, are you talking about white children or Romany children? There is a big difference in terms of who’s adoptable. The children on waiting lists fare for very young white kids and white babies, not older kids and ethnic minorities (nor does this include the large population of homeless Romanian kids) nor kids with disabilities (who are almost never domestically adopted in Romania or Russia). And that’s much the same in Russia… there are a lot of Muslim children, kids who are part Tartar, Romany, from the Caucasus, central Asia or other minorities who are not going to be adopted by white Russians, not to mention most children over the age of 4 and children with physical and developmental handicaps who are often warehoused in separate institutions. Unicef has recently stated that Russia still has upwards of 600,000 kids in their orphanage system. Putin uses International Adoption the same way he uses people from the Caucasus, Kyrgyz and Georgian as bogeymen to keep his power base of nationalism. Not to mention that the worst corruption happened under the Yeltsin regime, the man who placed Putin in power.

  5. This breaks my heart. I’ve known a number of families from my church community who have adopted from Ukraine, and my mom at one point waned to adopt as well. It sucks that I wouldn’t be able to do that myself especially since most of the conditions these orphans face in Ukraine are horrendous. I’m sure the kids wouldn’t care to be taken home to two moms instead of a mom and a dad, as long as they’d never have to go back to that hell.

  6. the state of gay rights in russia is really worrisome..

    putin will be visiting the netherlands next month, and the amsterdam city council (!!) has decided to fly the rainbow flag in protest:

  7. The statistic I’m not seeing here, and which I’d be interested in, is a comparison between adoption outcomes and non-adoption (domestic fostering/orphanage) outcomes. If 20 in 60,000 Russian children adopted in America have died, and those 60,000 Russian children would otherwise have not been adopted, would there have been more adverse outcomes?

    It seems fairly likely that 60,000 children growing up in orphanages (if that was the alternate option for these children) are likely to have a lot more bad outcomes, but who knows?

    • In 2002, the New York Times ran the following piece:

      “An estimated 650,000 children are in Russian orphanages. Orphans are turned out of the orphanages at the age of 16, and the results are poor for most of them: 40% are homeless, 20% turn to crime, and 10% commit suicide.”

      Another set of stats from 2007 said:

      Approximately 15,000 children leave Russian orphanages each year, usually at the age of 16 or 17 years of age
      50% of orphans after graduation fall into a high-risk category
      40% become involved in crime (the percentage of girls in forced sexwork is high)
      10% commit suicide
      33% stay unemployed
      20% become homeless
      Only 4% are admitted to universities

      (this is within 24 mos. after leaving the Internat (state boarding school which is the end of the line for the orphanage system). That said, there are a lot of very caring and loving people working in the orphanage/Internat system who do incredible work with extremely limited funding and resources.

      These stats, btw, say nothing of kids who, at 4 years old, get placed into Specialized Children’s Homes, which are for kids with disabilities. The Russian orphanage system is not set up to care for differently abled kids and they are mostly warehoused and virtually never domestically adopted.

      I’m not saying the US foster care system is a whole lot better, they’re both broken and underfunded.

      • This leaves out the many, many children who are in Russian foster care.
        I’m also seeing a trend in this issue being painted in a black/white way. Domestic adoption or adoption to the US, which simply isn’t the case.
        And again, Romania did a MASSIVE overhaul in its childcare practices once it shut its doors to the US, ESPECIALLY for special needs kids. Hopefully Russia will do the same, and maybe work to stop the horribly corrupt practices involved in Russia/US adoptions.
        In the meantime, as you said, support should be given to adoptive families, as so many children adopted from Russia are ending up either in the US foster care system or in unlicensed group homes, like Ranch for Kids, and experiencing abusive “therapies.”

        • The US should also get its shit together when it comes to home studies. If someone is telling you to LIE on your home study, go elsewhere. Home studies are a thing for a reason. Way too many adoptive families agency hop to find one who will approve their home study.
          I don’t know. People just need to get their shit together, across the board.

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