A different perspective on Russia’s adoption laws

Although there are many controversial issues regarding the Russian adoption laws – one of which bans American families from adopting Russian babies – the media is portraying these issues in a one-sided manner. Countless stories tug on the heartstrings of Americans everywhere, as innocent families unable to bring their adopted Russian children home share their struggles.

American media has also chosen its own reason as to why these laws have been enacted. CNN stated that the U.S. adoption ban, which is often referred to as the Dima Yakovlev law, “is widely seen (by the West) as retaliation for a law that President Obama signed on Dec. 14. That bill, called the Magnitsky Act, imposes U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.”

CNN also reported Russia’s surface reason for the law, stating, “Backers of the Russian bill said American adoptive parents have been abusive, citing 19 deaths of adopted Russian children since the 1990s.”

Western media bias has affected my views on this topic. Originally I had planned to make this article a scathing review of Russian adoption laws, whereby I would chastise the Russian government and call on Russia to recognize their absurdity. However, a conversation with Professor Richard Farkas, a Russian foreign policy professor, shifted my paradigm on this issue.

Farkas believes that Russia’s stated reason is indeed the reason for the ban on adoptions from Russia.

“You can label it anti- America. It’s directed at the problems and abuses that have taken place here, but it’s not without cause,” Farkas said. “The bottom line is that if the tables were turned and American children were not being treated by (our country’s) standards, we would probably create some type of legislation like this.”

Farkas realizes that if we were to put ourselves in Russia’s shoes, we would also be concerned for the sake of our country’s children. Just because Russia is doing this to us, doesn’t mean we can only see one side to their argument.

Another controversial point of Russia’s adoption laws is the anti-gay stance they take on adoption. As the Huffington Post stated, “President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning gay and lesbian couples in foreign countries from adopting Russian children.”

This policy is very discriminatory towards the international gay community, but is it right to criticize the Russian government for this? As Farkas pointed out, “It’s taken us (Americans) a long time to tolerate people with different sexual (orientations). It’s unreasonable for us to think that other societies can come to the same place at the same time that we do.”

Many of us want Russia to get with the program and enforce equality for gay and lesbian couples; however, we in fact are still getting with the program ourselves and it has taken us hundreds of years to do so. This is not to say that banning adoption by gay couples is an understandable practice, because it’s not. But rather, it is important to understand that Russia’s opinions may be typical of a new democracy.

Farkas mentioned how Russian democracy is only 20 years old. As he put it, “Perhaps American students should say to themselves, ‘how tolerant was the American government in 1820?'”

When Americans criticize Russia’s anti-gay adoption laws, their reasoning is often underdeveloped. Harvey Fierstein, a writer for the opinions section of the New York Times, stated, “If Mr. Putin thinks he is protecting heterosexual marriage by denying (gays) the same unions, he hasn’t kept up with the research.”

He then proceeded to cite a study conducted by the University of San Diego. What he is essentially saying is that the Russian government should listen to a study conducted in the United States by Americans.

But why should they? Russia is its own country with its own laws, traditions and practices. How can we critique Russia when they’re at such a different point in their history? There are always many sides to an issue, so before you jump to conclusions about Russia’s adoption policies, try to look at them from a different perspective.

This is not to say that Russia’s adoption policies are practical and make sense; rather, this is to point out that Russia’s beginnings are just that, beginnings. They have a long way to go in order to become a more tolerant country, like we currently are, and we shouldn’t necessarily criticize them for doing what Americans have done all throughout history – discriminate against what we might not understand.