Gay adoption: Types of adoption in the US


Adoption isn’t new. It has taken place in one form or another for many centuries. However, it wasn’t until the mid 1800s that the first adoption law was passed in the US. This took place in Massachusetts in 1851. Currently in the US, approximately 107,000 children are waiting to be adopted. Most of these children are in the welfare system; just waiting to find a new home. It’s no wonder that governments are trying to get potential parent(s) to adopt. Many are starting to turn to same-sex couples and lesbian, gay, bisexual and or trans individuals. In this post, Pink Families explores whether gay adoption is legal in the US and the types of adoption that take place.

Is gay adoption legal in the US?

Throughout the US, the legal right of lesbian, gay and trans individuals and couples to adopt varies by jurisdiction.

Adoptions are handled by the local courts. This means that throughout the US practices vary within the different jurisdictions. A same-sex couple can adopt in some states, but not in others.

In some states adoption is restricted by sexual orientation, gender orientation and marital status. Interestingly, more states in the US allow an individual who is gay or lesbian to adopt as compared to same-sex couples.

How to adopt in the US

In the US there are three main ways that people can adopt.

Stranger adoption

Stranger adoption is when single individuals adopt a child that they are not related to. Stranger adoption involving lesbian or gay individuals is allowed in the majority of US states.

Joint adoption

If you are in a stable, committed relationship then joint adoption may be your option, if the state allows this to happen. Joint adoption is where a couple apply to adopt a child that isn’t related to either of them.

A joint adoption involves a couple adopting a child from the child’s biological parent(s) or adopting a child who is in the custody of the state.

Second-parent adoption

The third option is where you adopt a child from a previous relationship or marriage. This is called second-parent adoption. It is sometimes referred to as step-parent adoption.

Joint and second-parent adoption is only legally allowed by LGBT people in a handful of states. This includes California, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Illinois, Delaware, Indiana and New York.

How many adopt in the US?

According to the Williams Institute same-sex couples are four times more likely to be raising an adopted child than different-sex couples. They report that approximately 20,000 same-sex couples in the US are raising 30,000 adopted children.

In the US in 1999-2000 approximately 60% of adoption agencies said that they had received applications from gay men and lesbian women. 39% reported that they had placed a child with a gay man, a lesbian woman and or a same-sex couple.


Brodinsky DM, Evan B & Staff of the Donaldson Adoption Institute. Adoption by Lesbians and Gays: A National Survey of Adoption Agency Policies, Practices and Attitudes. 2003. New York: Donaldson Institute.

In this video the gaby boom is discussed by Laci Green. Laci tells us that the science shows that different-sex parents and same-sex parents do just as well as each other.

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