(RNS) The American Academy of Pediatrics has angered conservatives by agreeing to support the right of gay men and lesbians to legally adopt their partner's children. The Feb. 4 policy statement, detailed in the journal Pediatrics, says children in gay families will enjoy greater financial and legal protection if they are adopted by both partners.

"Denying legal parent status through adoption ... prevents these children from enjoying the psychologic and legal security that comes from having two willing, capable and loving parents," the policy says. Specifically, the AAP statement says dual-partner adoption would ensure that custody rights would be guaranteed if one parents dies or falls ill, protect visitation rights and child support if the parents separate, ensure the child's access to health benefits and entitlements such as Social Security, and allow both parents to make important medical decisions for the child.

Currently, seven states and the District of Columbia explicitly allow gay adoption, while three states--Utah, Mississippi and Florida--effectively ban the practice. Other states handle the issue in various ways. Often when one partner adopts the child or gives birth to the child, the other partner has little or no legal rights in the parent-child relationship.

In many ways, the AAP endorsement serves as a sort of cultural barometer as society continues to wrestle with the proper role for gays and lesbians. Gay rights advocates say the widely respected group's stamp of approval will provide a measure of legitimacy in courts and legislatures. "The truth is that lesbian and gay parents are as good at raising children as anyone else," said Patricia M. Logue, senior counsel for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "And their children have the same need for security that all children have."

But conservative groups called the decision "hazardous," saying the network of 55,000 pediatricians has been hijacked by gay groups who want to redefine the traditional meaning of family. "It seems clear that the American Academy of Pediatrics has submitted to the will of homosexual activists within its ranks--at the expense of scientific honesty and the very children it seeks to serve," said William J. Maier, a psychologist at the conservative Focus on the Family organization.

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