Adoption Threatened in Virginia

Adoption Threatened in Virginia

Republican state legislator pushes bill modeled on Florida’s anti-gay law

Emboldened by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision not to hear an appeal of the 11th Circuit Court ruling that upheld Florida’s law preventing gay people from adopting in that state, Virginia state Delegate Richard H. Black, a Republican, has introduced H.B. 2921, a bill that would do the same for Virginia.

The law could go into effect this year.

“No person under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual” would be added to Virginia’s adoption laws.

According to Herb Lux, Black’s legislative assistant, all those applying to adopt would be asked if they are a homosexual as part of the normal screening process. Currently, potential adoptive parents are investigated for past criminal records, current health status and the ability to be a fit parent.

“The law has the exact wording as the Florida law. It’s to preserve the role of the mother and father in a family and Virginia law,” Lux said. “Scientific studies have also shown that the best interest of a child lies in their having a mother and a father.”

Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) right group, disagrees.

“Mr. Black is wrong about those studies,” she said in an interview with Gay City News. “They show that children raised in gay households turn out just as well as children in heterosexual households. What he’s saying is having no parents is better than having gay parents. He’s willing to deprive children of families to keep them away from gay people.”

Lux would not answer when asked if Black thought it preferable that a child remain in foster care or an orphanage, rather than be adopted by a gay parent.

“We have received an overwhelming positive response from constituents and from people around the country who are concerned with the traditional family and the role it plays in raising children,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children, Youth and Families estimates that there are more than 100,000 children in foster care in the U.S. every year, and only a third of them are ever adop

According to Paul Cates, director of public education for the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, besides Virginia, there is talk in Indiana, Alabama and Kentucky of moving toward bans on gay adoption. Mississippi bans adoption by cohabitating unmarried people, which includes gay couples, but not single gays. Arkansas prohibited gays and anyone living with a gay person from being foster parents, until a recent court case threw out the law. That case is on appeal, and the Arkansas Legislature is also considering ways to rework the law to address the legal concerns if they are upheld, Cates said.

In most states, the statutes are unclear as to how easily the partner of a gay parent can also adopt the child.

“Every year, states grapple with this, but there’s been a slight increase the past few months,” Cates said. “In the last year, the fear and desperation from the right has become extreme.”

He argued that restrictions on who can adopt only make it harder for child welfare workers to do their job—finding good homes for children.

“The broadest pool is the way to go,” he said. “If a person can’t be a good parent, that comes out in the screening process. Most child welfare advocates agree that gay parents are no better or worse than heterosexual parents.”

Last Thursday, when asked about the Florida law, Pres. George W. Bush told The New York Times that the “ideal in society is to raise children with a man and a woman… A married man and a woman.” The president claimed that studies have demonstrated this.

It was soon after Bush weighed in on a similar social matter that 13 states added bans on same-sex marriage to their constitutions, with another ten set to consider bans by 2006.

Was the president setting the stage for another conservative wave of legislation—backed up by the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to interfere in state prohibitions—that will further erode the protections gay families enjoy throughout the nation? Is Virginia simply the first of many states to follow?

Andrea Hildebran, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, that state’s LGBT organization, doesn’t think there is a nationwide movement on this issue.

“If there is, I haven’t seen it yet,” she said, adding that despite discussion of the idea, no bill to ban gay people from adopting in Kentucky has yet been introduced in the Legislature. “I’ve heard that something has been drafted, but were hopeful it won’t be filed.”

Proposed gay adoption bans are nothing new in Kentucky, but in the past they have been sponsored by very conservative members, always an obstacle in their passage.

“I think they are working to find a more mainstream sponsor,” Hildebran said.

H.B. 2401, currently in front of the Oregon Legislature, would mandate preferential treatment be given in adoption to heterosexual, married couples over single or gay-partnered parents. The bill says that no child should go to gay parents if qualified heterosexual parents are also available.

Roey Thorpe, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, the gay rights group there, said the bill isn’t a response to the Supreme Court’s recent action, but she did link it to the November 2004 election in which Oregon voters enacted a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state.

“There was a lot of talk about parenting and adoption,” Thorpe said. “Benefiting the welfare of children was the primary message of the groups pushing the ballot measure. This bill is a direct result of that campaign.”

Thorpe sees a link between the nationwide drive to ban gay marriage and the idea that gay people shouldn’t have children.

“It goes way beyond just marriage,” she said. “The entire movement is based on antiquated ideas about what society should look like and stereotyped gender roles.”

Calling Oregon a right-wing laboratory, Thorpe warned that if the bill passed in her state, other states would see similar measures proposed.

Lisa Bennett, director of the Family Project at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT political group, said there as yet hasn’t been a groundswell to ban gay adoption.

“There’s always a state considering it, but it’s not dramatically different from what we see every year,” she said.

If anything, the news is the opposite, Bennett argued.

“The trend in the courts is in the direction of allowing same-sex couples to adopt,” she said. “And the idea that gay families are bad for children is such an obvious contradiction of the facts, that I don’t think these bans will go far.”

As for lawmakers, who may now assume the Supreme Court has ensured their bills will hold up under a constitutional challenge, Cates said they are being hasty.

“Just because the Supreme Court’s declined to take a case, doesn’t mean they’ve issued a decision one way or another,” he said. “It’s certainly not a decision on the Florida law. It’s common for the Supreme Court to not interpret laws based on their own decisions for a number of years until waiting to see how lower courts have interpreted it.”

That’s a small consolation for the estimated 3,000 children languishing in Florida’s foster care system.