Adoption Bill Aims to Protect LGBT Parents, Kids

Chris Johnson,
DC Agenda | Mar 12, 2010 | Comments

A tearful moment interrupted a
congressional panel discussion on LGBT adoption Thursday when a gay
foster parent described how state officials in Florida were
threatening to take away his two children.

Martin Gill of Miami and his partner are
seeking to adopt two young brothers — referred to John and James
Doe in court papers — for whom they’ve cared for six years.
Because a 1977 Florida statute prohibits gays from adopting, Gill
has filed a lawsuit against the state in attempt to overturn the
law and adopt the two children.

After showing slides of his children
decorating a Christmas tree and dressed as Batman for Halloween,
Gill recalled how during an intermediary court hearing the state
attorney “made it all too clear” that he couldn’t remain the
caregiver should the lawsuit fail.

“They answered that if the court allows
the ban to stand, the state would immediately get a court order to
remove these kids from our home, and they would be made available
for adoption,” Gill said.

Holding back tears, Gill said the judge
pressed further on whether some other kind of permanent
guardianship could be available, but the response from the counsel
was, “No, I don’t think it is.”

“To that, there was an audible gasp in
the court room,” he said. “I felt my own heart drop.”

The intermediary court considering the case
could make its decision public at any time. The American Civil
Liberties Union, which has filed the lawsuit, is expecting the case
to continue to the Florida Supreme Court.

Knowing that at age 4 the older child had
to care for the younger one because they had no parents, Gill said
his biggest fear is that the state would send the two children to
separate homes.

“The lives of these two young boys would
be completely devastated,” he said. “What is ironic under the
current law is that how in the state of Florida, they would fulfill
the goal of permanency for these two young children by splitting
them up.”

To address the situation and others like
it, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) has introduced the Every Child
Deserves a Family Act. The bill would restrict federal funds for
states — including Florida — if they have laws or practices
that discriminate in adoption on the basis of sexual orientation
and gender identity.

During the panel discussion intended to
highlight the bill, Stark said discrimination shouldn’t take
place in states that have statutes prohibiting LGBT people from
adopting or where discrimination takes place without guidance from
the law.

“Standards in adoption and foster care
should only reflect the child’s best interest, nothing else,”
Stark said. “Too many children need a loving home and we just
should not close any doors.”

On March 8, Stark reintroduced the Every
Child Deserves a Family Act after having previously introduced the
bill last year. The new legislation makes technical changes and is
intended to ensure that children won’t face discrimination on the
basis of their own sexual orientation and gender identity as
they’re placed into homes.

The original legislation has 14 co-sponsors
that are expected to carry to the new legislation, H.R. 4806.
Proponents are also working on a Senate companion bill that could
be introduced before lawmakers break for recess this month.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of
the Family Equality Council, said passing the legislation would
enable thousands of children in foster care to find families.

Chrisler said a half million children are
living in foster care throughout the U.S. and 120,000 of them are
available for adoption. But each year, she noted, around 25,000
children “age out” of the system without finding parents.

“And yet, while there is a shortage of
qualified foster and adoptive parents for these children in need,
some states categorically exclude thousands of prospective parents
simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or
marital status,” she said.

Florida is the only state that has a
statute explicitly prohibiting adoption by gays and lesbians. Other
states, including Utah and Arkansas, have laws prohibiting
unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children.

But Chrisler said the majority of states
have no laws to speak to whether LGBT people can adopt, which can
leaves children in foster care “vulnerable to the individual
biases of agencies, case workers and judges.”

As the Every Child Deserves a Family Act
builds support, litigation to rectify the situations in certain
states is proceeding. Leslie Cooper, an ACLU senior staff attorney,
said in addition to the Florida case, another ACLU lawsuit is
pending in Arkansas to overturn the law preventing unmarried
cohabitating couples from adopting.

But Cooper said lawsuits aren’t “the
way to fully resolve this issue,” noting the cost of cases and
the difficulty of litigation in states without specific statutes
barring LGBT adoption.

“Litigation can be extremely effective
and chip away at this problem, and hopefully in some states,
resolve the issue,” she said. “But they aren’t the answer and
can’t solve this problem in any stretch. A more global solution
like this bill is what we need.”

Two panelists during the discussion
presented research showing that the sexual orientation of parents
has no impact on their children and many LGBT people would consider
adoption if it were available to them.

Charlotte Patterson, a lesbian psychology
professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in LGBT
families, said 36 percent of lesbians are mothers, 16 percent of
gay man are fathers and 40 to 50 percent of gays and lesbians say
they would consider becoming parents.

“Children really do well in lesbian and
gay parented homes as compared to demographically similar homes
parented by heterosexual adults,” she said.

Patterson said growing up in LGBT
households has no influence on children’s relationships with
their parents, siblings and peers, nor does it affect their gender
development, such as whether they want to play with traditionally
male or female toys.

“The consensus here is extraordinarily
clear,” she said. “Kids are well adjusted. There’s really no
need to justify any kind of discrimination.”

Following the discussion, Patterson told DC
Agenda studies often touted by social conservatives claiming that
biological parents are better than same-sex couples at raising
children are misleading.

“In general, what they’re referring to
is research about kids growing up with single heterosexual parents
and kids growing up with heterosexual couples,” she said. “In
those studies, there are usually no openly gay or lesbian people,
but the results of the studies are often used to make inferences
about what kids in gay and lesbian parented families would do.
That’s a mistake, of course.”

Gary Gates, a research fellow at the
Williams Institute, a think-tank on sexual orientation at the
University of California, Los Angeles, had similar data on the
number of gays and lesbians with children and those wanting to

A common misconception, Gates said, is that
it’s mostly LGBT people who are white that want to raise
children, as opposed to LGBT people who belong to racial minority

“All the data that we know about
parenting by LGBT people and same-sex couples shows that, in fact,
child-rearing is much more common in people of color,” he said.
“So particularly African-Americans and Latinos and Latinas,
they’re twice as likely as their white counterparts to say that
they’ve raised a child.”

Regarding the full population, Gates said
about one million LGBT people in the United States are raising
around two million children.

The numbers are different when looking just
at same-sex couples. Based on U.S. census data, Gates said about
112,000 same-sex couples throughout the United States are raising
around 250,000 children.

But Gates also said the data show more
same-sex couples raise children in states other than where LGBT
people tend to live — often West or East Coast states with more
gay friendly laws.

“What that also tells you is that
same-sex couples are raising kids in states that have some of the
most restrictive and challenging legal environments for gay and
lesbian people raising children,” Gates said. “Many of the
states with relatively high fractions of same-sex couples raising
kids are very both politically and socially conservative.”

Also speaking at the panel was Nakea Paige,
an 18-year-old high school student in D.C. who grew up in the
foster care system. Although she’s bound this fall for Michigan
State University to study biochemical engineering, Paige said her
childhood was difficult because she never found a permanent

“I’ve been in one group home and three
foster homes within three years, and having lived in three
different places in three years has been a very scary
experience,” she said.

Paige said one foster mother wouldn’t
allow her to stay because she wasn’t receiving the full amount of
compensation she thought she would receive. The foster mother had
given a 30-day notice to leave, but Paige said she didn’t know
about the notice until it was time for her to go.

Following the panel discussion, Paige told
DC Agenda she wouldn’t have minded living with LGBT parents.

“It wouldn’t have bothered me,
basically because it’s a family,” she said. “As long as I
have somebody there to love me as a child, and them as a parent,
then I’m fine with it.”