It was with a sigh of relief that I read of Governor Charlie Crist’s refusal to appeal the 3rd District Court of Appeal’s ruling upholding the rights of gay couples to adopt. I was nearly as pleased with his refusal as I was with the court’s ruling. And I am still wistful that Florida’s adoption agencies can still be so unfairly discriminatory against couples of mixed faiths. My spouse, of Christian heritage, and I, a Hindu by birth, were denied the ability to adopt several months ago, by an agency in Florida.
The response from the agency, with whom we had had—or so we thought—an amiable set of phone conversations about potential adoption situations, came after we sent in our portfolio and an application. It read as follows: “We are a private, Christian adoption agency, and after prayerful consideration, we do not feel that we can properly serve the commitment we make to our birth parents regarding placing their children if we were to accept your application.”
I sat in stunned silence, not bothering to catch the paper as it slipped away from my fingers and floated to the ground. I was undecided about whether to allow the tears to escape my eyes or to erupt into anger. I have spent my career writing, teaching, defending the rights of persecuted groups under various legal regimes. Always these groups were of a faith, a nationality, a background different than my own. As I reasoned, Hindus were not in the line of fire and could stand to lend a hand to others who were in more dire need of help. And I wondered, as I retrieved the letter from the floor and reread it to assure myself that the message was there: subtle yet firm:
We here in Florida--we cannot work with you because one-half of you is Hindu, and yet you make no apologies, no concessions, no promises to raise a child that we entrust to your care as a Christian. Rather, as you so (surprisingly? candidly? shamelessly?) state, you will raise the child with pagan traditions, and perhaps throw some Christian traditions into the mix for fun. And we can not accept that. Even when there are babies in need. Because babies in need should die before being placed in the hands of pagans. We know that here in Florida. We have already ensured that, if we can help it, babies will never find their needs met in the hands of homosexuals. But we know that they will be safe in the hands of heterosexual, Christian gun-owners. They will be safe in the hands of angry, whites or blacks or (god help us) brown people who are Christian. Much safer than in the hands of pagans, who will teach their children that all gods are the same god, or that gods have elephant trunks, or monkey faces, or millions of arms, or strong female gods.
It occurs to me that while I have spent my life writing about racial and legal and religious injustice, I have never been at the receiving end of religious discrimination—in part because Hinduism appears to be so safe and innocuous in the global clash of religions. We can’t stand to kill ants, for god’s sake. Aren’t we harmless and cuddly? Even Pretty Woman is a Hindu! Who could ever dislike us?
After finally reaching our social worker—our adoption agent, as it were—who expresses shock at our news, since her agency has worked with this group on myriads of occasions, who has discussed our case (seemingly agreeably) with the adoption representative from the other agency—she can’t believe that religion is the reason that they refuse to work with us. After all, they have placed many an infant with Jews. I mean, Jesus Christ! After all, Jews accept one half of the Bible, don’t they? Unlike us Asian heathens…
And yet—not that the Florida Christians would know it, Hindus have been capable of killing a few thousand Muslims themselves, and some others as well: some Sikhs, some women, some Dalits. We like our massacres as much as any Christian or Muslim or Jew, goddammit.
Why, then, am I deemed unfit? Because at the end of the day, it’s cool for Julia Roberts to be a white Hindu as long as she can pass for a white Christian. And it’s cool for Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley to rise to the upper-classes of wealth and politics, as long as they embrace the superiority of Christianity, and shed Hinduism like an old snakeskin.
I, on the other hand, am unfit, because unlike Piyush Jindal and Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley, I did not read the tea leaves earlier in life. I thought it was okay to be a Hindu, or even a Gypsy and still be allowed to raise a child to whom I did not give birth, as long as it was with warmth, care and love in this land of migrants, moral superiority, and mad passion for certain human rights. But while it may be ok for Christians who are heterosexual or same-sex couples, it is still not for others. Certainly not for Hindus. At least not in Florida.