Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rep. Pete Stark Introduces Bill Penalizing States With Gay Adoption Restrictions

U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-California) introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act on Thursday which would restrict federal funding for states with adoption or foster care laws that discriminate on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rep. Stark in his introduction to the bill:
Madam Speaker, I rise today to introduce legislation that will open up thousands of good homes to foster children. On any given day, there are approximately 500,000 children in the child welfare system. Over 125,000 of these abused and neglected children are waiting to be adopted. There is an acute shortage, however, of adoptive and foster parents. The result is that many children, particularly minority and special needs children, languish in foster care without permanent homes. The severe developmental, emotional, and educational costs to children raised in foster care are well documented. The 25,000 youth who never find a permanent family and “age out” of the system each year are more likely than nearly any other group to become homeless, incarcerated, or suffer with mental illness or substance abuse.

Despite the shortage of adoptive and foster parents and the terrible consequences of long stays in the child welfare system, some states have enacted discriminatory bans prohibiting children from being placed with qualified parents due to the parent’s marital status or sexual orientation. Currently, over 65,000 adopted children and 14,000 foster children are living with a gay or lesbian parent. Studies suggest that upward of 2 million gay and lesbian individuals are interested in adopting or fostering a child. Yet, statewide discriminatory bans and the practices of individual adoption agencies have resulted in fewer children being placed in safe and permanent homes.

Congress invests over $8 billion in the child welfare system each year and we should not accept policies that use Federal funds to enact barriers to adoption and close the door to thousands of potential homes. Multiple studies have found that adopted and foster children raised by gay and lesbian parents fare just as well as their peers being raised by heterosexual parents.

When considering a potential placement for a child, the only criteria should be what is in the child’s best interest and whether the prospective parents can provide a safe and nurturing home. Bigotry should play no part in this decision. That is why I am introducing the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act.” This legislation would simply prohibit any entity that receives Federal child welfare funds from denying or delaying adoption or foster care placements based solely on the prospective parent’s marital status or sexual orientation. States and child welfare agencies that fail to end discriminatory practices would face financial penalties. This is the same approach that put an end to race discrimination in adoption and foster care placements.
States with adoption restrictions that would be affected if this legislation becomes law are Utah, Florida, Arkansas, Nebraska and Mississippi, reports the Washington Blade. Other states that have considered restrictions include Tennessee and Kentucky.

The legislation, Stark told the Washington Blade, would restrict funds from states that have discriminatory adoption bans or restrictions by agencies, individual socials workers or judges. If states don't comply, federal officials could withhold funds provided to them for child welfare services. Follow-up would be done by the Government Accountability Office within five years of enactment.

Currently, no co-sponsors have stepped up to show support, but Drew Hammill, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's spokesperson, said "Denying a child a loving home solely on the basis of a couple's sexual orientation is wrong and ultimately harms the child. With that in mind, we are encouraged that Rep. Stark is taking up the issue and will be monitoring the legislation's progress."

"I'd like to counter early on the arguments that will come up — sexual orientation will train the children to assume a gay lifestyle, and you know the claptrap that I'll get," Rep. Stark said. "But I think if we can have the hearings in a rather calm approach, we could put those issues to rest."

Rep. Stark hopes to find a Republican co-sponsor, then work on getting Senate companion legislation introduced.

ACTION: Queers United has given a call to action.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nations largest LGBT advocacy organization has announced that while they are supportive of the bill "they will not lobby for the bill until and if it gains traction in congress"

HRC should be behind all LGBT bills (popular or not) if we can't count on the largest LGBT rights organization to lobby for this change, how can we expect this change to gain traction?
Demand HRC actively lobby for the Every Child Deserves a Family Act.

Contact your congressperson and kindly request they support and co-sponsor this legislation.

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