Current State of Gay and Lesbian Rights to Adopt Children and Provide Foster Care
New Texas Legislation Targets Gay Foster Parents, Sodomy
Bill Would Allow Gays and Lesbians to Adopt, Be Foster Parents
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CURRENT STATE OF GAY AND LESBIAN RIGHTS TO ADOPT CHILDREN AND PROVIDE FOSTER CARE
Our adversaries have worked hard to end any hope of gaining our rights to same-gender marriage. Now, they are beginning campaigns across the nation to end our rights to adopt children or to provide foster care for children in need.
In 1998, the Governor of California led the way in his executive order banning homosexuals from adoption and foster care. Our allies rushed to pass a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of marital status in state adoptions but that bill was dropped without a vote. It was the only pro-gay adoption bill introduced this year in the country. The anti-adoption and/or foster parenting bills introduced this year in five states are either dead or not likely to progress.
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TASK FORCE DENOUNCES ARKANSAS FOSTER CARE BAN
WASHINGTON, DC—January 7, 1999— The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force denounced a decision to ban gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in Arkansas from becoming foster parents. Yesterday, the Child Welfare Agency Review Board passed a resolution that would make Arkansas the second state to enact such a ban. As worded, the ban would prevent a child from being placed with anyone who has engaged in same-sex sexual behavior or anyone sharing a household with someone who has engaged in same-sex sexual behavior. There is a comment period, which will likely take a number of weeks and will entail five public hearings, before the ban will take effect.
"This ban is not about the welfare of children, it’s about attacking and demonizing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people," said Kerry Lobel, executive director of the Task Force. "Right-wing extremists are aiming their arsenal at our families more than ever before. We will face similar battles in a number of states this year, and we will do everything in our power to face down these lies, distortions, and myths with the simple truth," added Lobel.
Arkansas would become the third state to ban gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people from adopting and/or becoming foster parents. The New Hampshire legislature passed a law banning both adoption and foster care in late 1980s. Florida passed a law banning adoption in 1977. Also, in Oklahoma, people convicted under the state’s sodomy law are banned from adopting.
According to the Task Force, similar measures are likely to be introduced this year in at least three other states (IN, TX, MI). Last year, anti-adoption or anti-foster care measures were introduced in five states (AZ, CA, GA, OK, TN). All of them were defeated. Both the New Hampshire and Florida laws are currently being contested. In Florida there is a lawsuit challenging the ban, and yesterday in New Hampshire advocates introduced a bill (HB 90) that would reverse the law.
"Regulations like this are responsible for robbing thousands of needy children from loving, nurturing, supportive homes. It is time to listen to the voices of young people who know that what is important is a good parent, not a parent whose sexual orientation has been run through a government-sanctioned litmus test," said Felicia Park-Rogers, Director of the organization Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere and herself a 27-year old lesbian daughter of a gay man and a lesbian.
The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community and its allies, including the Interfaith Alliance for Equality, are organizing to prevent the ban from being enacted. "There are many serious problems with Arkansas’ foster care system. Rather than using time and resources to address them, the state is wasting them on a non-issue," said Judy Matsuoka of the Little Rock-based Women’s Project, and a coordinator of the efforts to block the ban.
Many organizations, including the Child Welfare League, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and the American Psychological Association oppose the use of sexual orientation as a criteria in foster care and adoption placement.
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STATE AGENCY TO CONSIDER ADOPTION LIMITS
SALT LAKE CITY – A proposal before the Board of Child and Family Services may prevent gay couples, lesbian couples, heterosexual couples living in common-law relationships and polygamists from adopting children.
Board chairman Scott H. Clark said state adoption standards are now silent on the issues.
"I don’t believe that given all the alternatives, it is a reasonable choice to permit people who are not married – be they man-woman, woman-woman, man-man or living together in a clan but not legally married – to be an appropriate adoption choice," he said.
The revision would not "limit or discourage single-parent adoptions," he said.
The proposal would require a "verification that adults present in the home are legally related to the (prospective adoptive) parent or parents by blood or legal marriage."
The board will conduct a public hearing on the proposed policy change on Jan. 22 at the Division of Child and Family Services.
Clark and his wife, Mary Beth, are the parents of 18 adopted children. Clark said he believes that married, heterosexual couples can provide adopted children the greatest degree of stability.
"I feel it is the duty and obligation of the division to promote those situations which are probably the most stable for children," he said. DCFS director Ken Patterson said Wednesday that "the division did not seek to put this on the agenda of the board. We think, in fact, there are more pressing issues for the division to deal with, like carrying through with the instructions (U.S. District Court) Judge Campbell gave us in September," referring to the David C. vs. Leavitt case that challenges Utah’s child welfare practices.
"We see this as an individual initiative of the chairman of the board," Patterson said.
While the division is not seeking guidance on the point, Patterson said he believes the policy should originate from the Legislature.
No bars on adoption
Although adoptions are handled by juvenile court judges in closed proceedings, some polygamist groups have moved to adopt children from other polygamist families. In 1991, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that practicing polygamy does not automatically make a couple ineligible to adopt, even though plural marriage is against the law.
In a 3-2 opinion, the court found that "neither the statute, the Constitution, nor good public policy justifies a blanket exclusion of polygamists from eligibility as adoptive parents."
Department of Human Services legal director Kate Lahey told the board in December that the policy revision may conflict with state adoption statutes, Utah case law and licensing rules.
There also could be constitutional challenges to the amendment. Otherwise, the Department of Human Services has not taken a stand on the issue.
Roz McGee, executive director of Utah Children, objects to the proposal. "I would be really disappointed to see this board take this kind of narrow position, which will surely involve you in a lot of public attention, media attention and perhaps litigation. It will distract your attention from some critically important areas you are addressing and should be addressing," McGee said.
Judy Matsuoka of the Women’s Project is available at (501) 372-5113 for information about local efforts to block the ban. Felicia Park Rogers of COLAGE is available for further comment at (415) 861-5437.
Provo Daily Herald, January 7, 1999
The Associated Press
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NEW TEXAS LEGISLATION TARGETS GAY FOSTER PARENTS, SODOMY
By Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Associated Press
AUSTIN — Social workers are rigorous in their search for potential foster and adoptive parents. They call references, check criminal backgrounds and calculate finances.
And if two Texas lawmakers get their way, social workers will consider sexual preference, too.
State Reps. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, have filed bills to ban the placement of children into gay or lesbian households.
Chisum said such households provide an improper atmosphere for raising children.
"It is not conducive to Judeo-Christian beliefs and it can be destructive for the children," he said, adding that heterosexual couples offer the most solid home and best lifestyle.
Gay and lesbian advocates point to American Psychological Association studies which have determined sexual orientation is irrelevant to a parent’s ability to raise a child.
"People who support proposals like this say they are pro-family, but what more antifamily thing can you do than to say to children in foster care that we are going to deny you the opportunity to be raised by loving parents who could give you a good home and leave you in institutional care instead?" asked Matt Coles, director of the lesbian and gay rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services reports an average of 1,850 children are available for adoption each month in Texas for some 2,000 willing households. The numbers are even greater in foster care — about 11,000 children are living with some 6,000 licensed foster families on any given month.
Stewart Davis, an agency spokesperson, said matching families’ and children’s criteria is complex. Some children want to stay with their siblings and families often request a particular age, race, and gender.
"This legislation would reduce the potential number of families that could be considered for foster care and adoption," he said.
A state child welfare worker who sued the agency in September was the inspiration for the bills.
Rebecca Bledsoe, a 12-year employee of the agency’s Child Protective Services division, said the agency demoted her for taking a 3-month-old boy from a lesbian couple’s home in Dallas. According to a grievance she filed last year with the agency, she reasoned "homosexual conduct is against the law in Texas."
The law she cited also is up for consideration in the 1999 Legislature, which convenes Jan. 12. Rep. Debra Danburg, D-Houston, has filed a bill to repeal a clause in the Texas Penal Code which makes "sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex" a Class C Misdemeanor.
Suzanne Goldberg, a lawyer for the national gay legal group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, called the state’s 119-year-old anti-sodomy law an outrageous invasion of privacy.
"It licenses police to enter the bedrooms of consenting adults," said Ms. Goldberg.
In September, two Houston men were caught in the act while police were responding to a false report of an armed intruder. The men pleaded no contest to sodomy charges and then appealed with a motion to quash the charges.
The case could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, as the men’s challenges are based upon state and federal constitutional questions involving privacy rights.
But Ms. Danburg may have a hard time getting the bill past Texas, where the anti-sodomy law has some staunch support.
"It is easy to see how society is going in the wrong direction; we don’t need to take any other barriers down that would further advance our decline in morality," said Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land.
Rep. Warren Chisum’s bill is HB 382. Rep. Robert Talton’s bill is HB 415. Rep. Debra Danburg’s bill is HB 337.
Fort Worth Star Telegram
January 2, 1999
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5. NEW HAMPSHIRE
BILL WOULD ALLOW GAYS AND LESBIANS TO ADOPT, BE FOSTER PARENTS
Associated Press, December 31, 1998
CONCORD, N.H. – Four-year-old Josh calls both Keryn Kriegel and June Bernard "Mommy."
Kriegel and Bernard are lesbian partners who have raised Josh and his younger brother, Spencer, as most parents do – from the decision to have children through the diaper-changing years and beyond.
But only Bernard, who got pregnant with sperm bought by Kriegel from a California sperm bank, has parental rights. Kriegel would like to adopt the boys, because she fears that if something happened to Bernard or they split up, she would lose any right to be part of their lives.
"You have anxiety buried in there,"she said. "What if anything ever happened to June? It’s the big uncertainty of what my rights would be to the kids."
But Kriegel can’t adopt.
Under a state law passed in 1987, gays and lesbians cannot adopt children or serve as foster parents. New Hampshire is one of only two states with such restrictions; Florida is the other.
That could change in 1999. Rep. Raymond Buckley, D-Manchester, has proposed a bill that would undo the ban on gay adoptions, passed during what he calls "the height of the season of hate."
The legislative debate in 1987 revolved largely around the belief that most gays were child molesters and could give children AIDS. One supporter of the ban argued that gay people wanted to "raise their own meat" to sexually molest.
A minority argued that most child molesters are heterosexual and the ban would be discriminatory. However, the state Supreme Court said in an advisory opinion the ban would be constitutional, so the law has never been challenged in court.
Buckley says his bill would help children by increasing the number of available foster and adoptive parents. Right now, there are 1,500 children in state care ranging from foster homes to residential programs, but only about 820 licensed foster families, according to the state Division of Children, Youth and Families.
"I don’t see it so much as a gay rights issue,"Buckley said. "I see it as a `What’s best for the children?’ issue."
Some would-be foster parents have challenged the law. Richard and Ruth Stuart of Laconia, who have acted as emergency foster parents a dozen times, balked when their license came up for renewal and the state said they had to sign a form stating there were no adult homosexuals living in their home. They refused to sign, even though neither one is gay.
"We felt that was unduly intrusive and nobody’s business and patently discriminatory,"Ruth Stuart told the Concord Monitor.
Betsy and Harold Janeway tried to become foster parents, but ultimately were turned down because two of their five grown children are gay, and the state wanted assurances those children would not visit their parents for an extended time.
"It is a purely homophobic law,"said Betsy Janeway. "Think what an incredible insult it is to a human being to tell that human being they are not safe people to leave children with. This is based on old myths about gay people and the confusion in many people’s minds between pedophiles and gay people."
The prospects for Buckley’s bill are uncertain.
In many ways, the tenor of the Statehouse has changed in the past 11 years. The governor and a majority of senators are Democrats.
Last year, the Legislature passed a bill giving gays and lesbians equal rights in housing, employment and public accommodations. Gov. Jeanne Shaheen signed it.
House Speaker Donna Sytek supported that bill, but she also voted for the ban on gay adoptions and foster parents 11 years ago. She could not be reached by the Monitor for comment on Buckley’s bill.
And some legislators have doubts about allowing gays and lesbians to adopt.
State Sen. Mary Brown, R-Chichester, said she believes in equal rights for everyone, but she fears Buckley’s bill would give the state’s stamp of approval to homosexuality.
"I don’t like the thought that we can have a society where all this stuff is absolutely normal, "she said. "I don’t think it is normal. I think it is deviant behavior."