U.S. Adoption law

The following is an extremely long post- sorry.  I started witting at the beginning of the month and it just got longer and never got posted.  Proof that I was going to post can be found in Emily’s comments. Also, on the 25th some of the information posted changed because of this ruling, making the Florida adoption ban illegal.  However, I decided to post anyway because despite the ruling, we have a long way to go when it comes to gay adoption and the needs to children in the foster-care system.

Foster care is a difficult system for children to survive in; children that do not find permanent adoptive parents may be placed in as many as 20 homes before their 18th birthday (ACLU, 2003). Foster care is meant to serve children for the short-term problems where they must be removed from families; however, it is not a long-term solution that caters to the psychological well-being of the child.

Currently there are 500,000 children in foster care in the United States (ACLU, 2003; Alexander, 2001; Contemporary Sexualities, 2006; Dahir, n.d.). This number is growing since the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (P.L. 105-89) in 1997 which requires more expedient termination of birth parent rights (Ryan, Pearlmutter, & Groza, 2004). Of this half million children, at least 100,000 are available for permanent adoption; of which only 20,000 will find adoptive parents (ACLU, 2003; Alexander, 2001; Contemporary Sexualities, 2006; Ryan, Pearlmutter, & Groza, 2004). Many people, including organizations that support children’s rights, advocate for changing adoption laws so that singles and gays can adopt. Currently, there is no systematic way of deciding who can serve as adoptive parents; thus people who can adopt in one state cannot adopt in another which leaves thousands of children each year in limbo with the foster care system.

Florida Case

Florida is the only state that not only does not allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt, regular or second parent, it also does not allow anyone who has had a homosexual relationship in their past to adopt. This is the strictest anti-same-sex parent law in the United States. Possibly due to this standard, Florida has more children in the foster care than the national average. Moreover, they languish in foster care longer than the national average. The ACLU has helped same-sex Florida families sue the government for the right to adopt their foster children. Judge Stanley Birch, who upheld a decision for the Court of Appeals not to hear an appeal against the ban, wrote that “the ban was bad policy” and “that if he were a member of the Florida legislature he would be opposed to the law” (Norris, 2004).

Florida’s ban is not only harmful to same-sex parents; it is also detrimental to the children. The Lofton-Croteau family is the most publicized of the plaintiffs being represented by the ACLU. Their story is particularly poignant because it illustrates the difference between states in their regulations. Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau have been together since 1983(ACLU, n.d,). Although they were never planning on having children, they are both nurses and Steve worked on the pediatrics AIDS unit. In 1988, they brought their first Florida foster child home, a little HIV positive infant. Throughout the years, they have taken in 3 more Florida foster children and 2 from Oregon, all HIV positive. Moreover, Steve quit his job on request of the Florida State Foster Care to stay home full time and care for the children; both their medical needs and their personal development. The Florida children have lived with Steve and Roger since they were infants and are now 14, 14 and 10 years old. The younger children, from Oregon, have already been adopted by the couple. Despite the fact that Florida’s Miami Social Service Agencies has not only named them foster parent of the year, but actually named the award for best foster parents of the year the Lofton-Croteau Award, the state has denied them the right to adopt these children (ACLU, n.d,). Furthermore, Bert, at 14 years of age, no longer tests positive for HIV. Therefore, he has been deemed adoptable and the state is currently looking for an adoptive family for him (ACLU, n.d,). In essence, the state is looking to take Bert away from the only family he has ever known which desperately wants to adopt him, so that he can be placed with heterosexual strangers.

Gay Parenting

Although few states outright ban gays and lesbians from adopting as Florida does, most states put the decisions into the hands of the court system and social workers. This added hurdle is an extra expense that families must bare. Not to mention that gay men and lesbian women typically are subjected to more meticulous background checks and investigations before adoptions are granted. Despite all the obstacles, researchers approximate that the total number of children residing with at least one gay or lesbian parent ranges from six to 14 million. Additionally, it seems contradictory that although states recognize that gay men and lesbian women can be good parents and thus no longer use sexual orientation as a status to deny custody or visitation, they continue to discriminate in adoptions based on sexual orientation.

Those who oppose same-sex couple adoptions try to frame the debate as protecting children or under the rubric of family values. They claim that allowing same-sex couples to adopt equates “experimenting on children” (Dahir, n.d.). This claim is supported by the Vatican which maintains gay adoptions are “gravely immoral” (Dahir, n.d.). Nonetheless, these excuses only vaguely camouflage the homophobic roots of the bans. Homophobia, accompanied by heterosexism, portrays straight people as the norm and gay/lesbian families as inferior.

Furthermore, this discrimination does not play out only on policy levels, but also through the actions of individual judges and social workers. Few empirical studies have been conducted which explore homophobia among child welfare workers and its effect on adoption placements and recommendations (Ryan, Pearlmutter, & Groza, 2004). In one study, 50 caseworkers in California were interviewed; they generally favored permitting adoptions by same-sex couples. However, around one-third of the respondents felt that the child should be at least 5 years old; 25 percent felt the child should be at least 15 years old (Ryan, Pearlmutter, & Groza, 2004).

There is no empirical evidence that supports the claim that gay or lesbian parents disadvantage their offspring (Alexander, 2001; Dahir, n.d.; Ryan, Pealmutter, & Groza, 2004). The American Psychological Association (1995) goes as far as to state that the home environments provided by gay and lesbian parents are “as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to enable and support children’s psychological growth” (as cited in Alexander, 2001). Additionally, children are resilient and although children of gays and lesbians must contend with unique circumstances and homophobia, this does not influence their social or emotional development (Alexander, 2001). The key is that the children are provided with a loving, safe, and consistent environment. For real life stories and proof of positive parenting and loving families, check out Mombian or any of the families listed under Lesbian Family’s blogroll!

California policy

California is often referred to as being the polar opposite of Florida in terms of same-sex parent adoption laws. In California both second parent same-sex adoptions and same sex adoptions are legal. Moreover, when a child is born to a gay couple, both parents are named immediately on the birth certificate; this is even true in the case of surrogate mothers where both fathers’ names are listed on the birth certificate and the surrogate’s name is left off. In describing the ideal adoptive parents the California Department of Social Services (2004) stated:

When selecting adoptive parents, agencies seek mature adults who have a stable family life, regular income, good health, willingness to accept an adopted child as their own, and suitability to meet the needs of the child. Adoptive parents should be flexible, patient, loving, caring, committed, and capable of dealing with changes in their expectations and lifestyles. Above all, adoptive parents should be able to value their newly adopted child for what he or she can accomplish and to appreciate the child’s unique qualities.

This description is a valid argument for what constitutes the best interest of the child; sexual orientation is not a criteria. By creating standards that are non-discriminatory California encourages more families to adopt, the adoption process to go quicker and, thus, saves many children from languishing in foster care.

Policy Recommendations

Clearly there are options and extremes as to what policies may look like; the two I outlined are opposites and I have tried to point out the difficulties that children (and gay families) in Florida face as a result. Although I understand the necessity in many situations for states to run their own programs and make their own laws based on their needs, this logic should not apply when one is working with issues of discrimination. Congress and the Supreme Court have a right to step in a mitigate laws based on heterosexism; social justice must be the key underlying tone.

It is the right of children in the foster care system to be placed with any family that wants them and does not pose danger to them. Child molesters and those convicted of domestic violence should not foster children; heterosexuals, lesbian/gay/bisexual, and single people male, female, or transgender who can provide a loving environment should be considered. It is in the best interests of the children to move them out of the system and into a stable environment.

Moreover, it has been seen that no law does not necessarily alleviate the negative impact of anti-same-sex adoption laws; simply doing nothing is the equivalent of upholding bigotry. Gays and lesbians in both states that have laws against same-sex adoption and states which have no laws either way face discrimination. In order to preserve the right of states to decide about their adoption while at the same time protecting the rights of children and LGBT people, Congress should pass an anti-discrimination bill that says people can not be denied adoption rights based on sexual orientation. Discrimination and homophobia are no longer acceptable as public or private policy in the United States of America.

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