When President Bush announced his decision to nominate future-Chief Justice John Roberts to the Supreme Court, his wife Jane stood nearby holding the hands of two beautiful children — Jack and Josie Roberts. Both of these children were born in Ireland, and later adopted by the future Chief Justice and his wife. Justice Clarence Thomas also has an adopted son, his grandnephew Mark Martin, Jr., who Thomas adopted when Martin was six.
So it is a bit hard to understand why a top anti-gay advocate decided to insult adoptive parents in general — and Chief Justice Roberts in particular — as the justices are preparing to hear two cases that will decide whether same-sex couples will enjoy the same right to marry as all other Americans. According to John Eastman, a law professor and chair of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, Roberts and Thomas’ adopted children are only growing up in the “second-best” environment:
The justices also are not immune to considering how they might be affected by the course one side or the other is advocating in a dispute before them. . . . [Johns Hopkins Sociology Professor Andrew] Cherlin, who does not follow the high court especially closely, wondered whether the gay marriage cases might take on a similar dynamic. “If justices consider their own family lives in these cases, it may change the way they rule,” he said.
Gay marriage opponents said they are not worried about the votes of Roberts and Thomas.
“You’re looking at what is the best course society wide to get you the optimal result in the widest variety of cases. That often is not open to people in individual cases. Certainly adoption in families headed, like Chief Roberts’ family is, by a heterosexual couple, is by far the second-best option,” said John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage. Eastman also teaches law at Chapman University law school in Orange, Calif.
There is nothing “second-best” about the family environment Roberts and Thomas have provided to their adopted children. While many critical things can be said about Justice Thomas — and we have said a lot of them — his decision to adopt his grandnephew is admirable and speaks well of Thomas’ capacity for personal sacrifice:
Neither Thomas nor his wife nor several Savannah sources contacted for this story would discuss the circumstances behind Thomas’ taking custody of Mark. But others say that the situation, while not dire, called for a responsible person to step in quickly. Mark Sr., Thomas’ nephew, had been in prison on cocaine trafficking charges. And Mark Jr.’s mother, Susan, was struggling with her own problems, raising four children, including young Mark Jr., on her own. Thomas believed that the boy would face lifelong trouble if he were not removed from his environment soon, and the parents agreed. “He was paying back his own grandfather by taking care of Mark,” says one friend.
The Roberts’ adoption story is rooted less in family tragedy and more in their devout faith. John and Jane Roberts married late in life — Jane was 42. The Chief Justice and his wife chose not to seek medical treatment that would have enhanced Jane’s ability to conceive because “Catholic doctrine prohibits most forms of fertility treatment,” and instead chose to adopt two children. As with Thomas, there are many critical things that can be said about the Chief Justice, but he is by all accounts very kind in his personal interactions and he and his wife provided their adopted son and daughter with a household where they could thrive. Roberts deserves praise for adopting children, and he certainly does not deserve the aspersions cast upon adopted parents by Professor Eastman.
Eastman is also not the first attorney involved in the marriage cases to suggest adoptive parents are somehow a second-best opinion for children. In his brief on behalf of the House Republicans defending the Defense of Marriage Act, conservative superlawyer Paul Clement claimed that “[b]iological parents have a genetic stake in the success of their children that no one else does.”
Eastman is now walking back his statement:
An article by the Associated Press, excised in part by The Huffington Post, grossly misrepresents my views on adoption. I believe that couples who adopt children are heroes and do a great service to society, and to the children they adopt. I strongly believe, based on thousands of years of experience and countless social science studies, that children do best when raised by a mother and a father within the bounds of marriage. I commend all those couples who selflessly give of themselves to raise a child who, through no fault of her own, has been deprived of a mother and father. There is nothing ‘second best’ about adoption.