The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

March 11, 2006

Adoption and Discrimination Against Gay Couples

Catholic Charities of Boston announced this week that it is discontinuing its adoption work in Massachusetts because it opposes the state law that prohibits adoption agencies from discriminating against same-sex couples.

Many will blame this situation on the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality, and that is part of the story. The Church's position is particulary hard for many people to accept in this context given that children bear a large part of the cost. And no evidence suggests that gay couples are less fit parents than heterosexual couples.

Government policy also played a role in generating this unfortunate circumstance, however. Were it not for the state law that bars private adoption agencies from discriminating against gays, Catholic Charities would be continuing to offer adoption services.

Well-intentioned government policies often have negative consequences. In this case the attempt to help same-sex couples will harm innocent children who need parents. The remaining adoption agencies in Massachusetts can fill some of the void caused by this incident. But since Catholic Charities devoted extra effort to special-needs children, and these children are often difficult to place, a gap in coverage is likely to remain.


At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing that you can move some of the blame from an intolerant and bigoted group to the government.

Would it also be a bad law for the government to prohibit racial discrimination in hiring because racists wouldn't apply for the jobs?

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

I find it amusing that you take on its face the claim that Catholic Charities is discontinuing its adoptions because of the state law. The law isn't anything new, and they've operated well until recently.

There are at least two other sound reasons why it may be discontinued: the enormous drain on church finances due to pedophilic scandals and the resignation of a substantial part of the board of directors over the Church's bigotry.

When the bishops want to bludgeon politicians with their bigotry, they may find it convenient to blame the state rather than take responsability for themselves. It's a political game for them: the Catholic church conveniently overlooks all sorts of things to let sleeping dogs lie. But when they want some political result, then the muckraking, blaming, and screaming matches start.

And of course, in typical libertarian fashion, you're overlooking the obvious benefits of the nondiscrimination policy. It's in the best interests of the adoptees to have the largest possible pool of applicants, so that the best can be selected. Remember, the program is for the children, not for the adoption agency.

Could be worse though: you could adopt the LPUSA position and endorse baby selling.

At 2:39 AM, Blogger Al Brown said...

i too am disappointed with the church's general cowardice.

But coercion is never the answer and if they don't want to deal with certain people, that's their business. Never mind that closeted gay people are running the church.

Everybody that still hasn't left the church averts their eyes on so many thing, whats a little more denial?

At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious if Prof Miron supports the abolition of all antidiscrimination laws, including that for housing and employment.

He didn't try to invoke an exception for religious entities, but used the word 'private'.

I've heard the argument that we should permit discrimination under the belief that such companies would fail due to being inefficient (focusing on this hiring criteria rather than excellence). That may be true given enough time, but at what point should ethics constrain the ideals of economics?

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

"Were it not for the state law that bars private adoption agencies from discriminating against gays, Catholic Charities would be continuing to offer adoption services."

Wow, Jeff... blame the victim, much?

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

One more thing: you've got the direction of harm backwards. Both gay and straight adoptive parents provide a demonstrably better environment for children than foster care does. By allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples, they are harming the children they claim to be helping by denying them every possible opportunity to move out of foster care and into a permanent home. That's the kind of negative externality that government should properly address. It's also the right thing to do.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger James said...


"I've heard the argument that we should permit discrimination under the belief that such companies would fail due to being inefficient (focusing on this hiring criteria rather than excellence). That may be true given enough time, but at what point should ethics constrain the ideals of economics?"

This isn't an "ideal" or goal of economics. Rather, economic analysis shows that discriminatory procedures increase the risk of losses. The economic argument isn't that antidiscrimination laws are good or bad, it's that they are redundant are redundant since organizations will quit discriminating in order to try and avoid losses.

At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Would you say that the economic argument with regard to losses applies in this scenario? I would think that it doesn't because adoption isn't a competitive industry, and those that stand to lose are the children and not the Catholic Church.

At 10:58 PM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

James, that "economic argument" ignores the fact of extralegal punishments of "economically rational" defectors ranging from lynching and arson to boycotting and snubbing. Our long history of racist discrimination (red lining for example) required federal and state action after decades of failure of markets to correct the situation. The big advantage of government mandates is that (a) they provide an excuse and (b) everybody defects at once, so nobody stands out as a target for retaliation.

At 12:46 AM, Blogger James said...

mike, vtconomist,

The point of view I was concerned with dispelling was that economics was some kind of a normative ideal to be weighed against the normative ideal of doing the right thing.

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