In a conversation with grad students the other day, I suggested that all other things being equal, adoption policy should give preference to couples.  Though a few of them agreed, others objected that such a policy would amount to “punishing singles.”

I found that an interesting expression.

In the older view, duties come before rights.  The important thing is the well-being of the children; parents have rights to care for their children because this is best for the children themselves.

In the newer view, rights come before duties.  The important thing is what grown-ups want; anyone who wants a child has a right to be given one, and the state has a duty to hand one over.

Those who take the newer view don’t push it all the way.  They usually accept some minimum level of competence as a prerequisite for the right to adopt.  For example, most would agree that children should not be given to singles who are drug addicts.  So another element of the newer view would seem to be that singles are just as competent as couples to raise children.

It is an interesting take on the natural order of the family.  Mothers are dispensable.  Fathers are dispensable.  One person of either sex is enough.  At least – as one of my students suggested -- if there is wealth enough to hire a nanny.

Well, sometimes one parent really is the best one can do.  Some mothers, and some fathers, must raise a child alone through no fault of their own.  I salute them, just because their lot is so hard.  The task requires heroic virtue.  One must try to be a mother and father all at the same time, which is impossible.

But to say that I, as a single, have a right to adopt is to say that I should have the power to inflict a missing parent on the child:  To make some little soul fatherless or motherless, though he could have had a mom and a dad.