Stark re-introduces gay adoption & foster care bill

Rep. Pete Stark re-introduced a bill today that would ban discrimination in adoption or foster care placement based on the sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity, or based on the child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

H.R. 1681, the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” has 33 original cosponsors. Stark, D-Fremont, issued a news release saying it addresses the critical shortage of stable, safe and loving homes now available to children in the foster care system by setting a federal baseline that ends prejudiced restrictions.

Pete Stark“We now spend more than $7 billion per year on a flawed foster care system that doesn’t serve all the children who are in it, and permits discrimination against capable, loving potential parents and children,” Stark said. “It’s time for a federal fix to this critical child welfare and civil rights issue. Every child deserves the lifelong benefits that come from growing up in a stable home.”

Stark offered a similar bill in October 2009, but it never even got a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee. Stark’s office says states including Virginia, Arizona and Illinois recently have tried to further restrict who can adopt, making this re-introduction particularly timely. A handful of states affirmatively allow gay men and lesbians to adopt jointly, while most states are silent on the issue.

California legalized single-parent adoptions by lesbians and gay men in 1978. A state law that took effect in 2002 let domestic partners adopt a child of his or her partner as a stepparent. And the California Supreme Court in 2003 affirmed the validity of second-parent adoption, a process that allows unmarried couples, including lesbian and gay couples, to establish a legal relationship with the couples’ children.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, has announced she’ll introduce the bill in the Senate.

“Far too many children in foster care have little hope for a permanent family and end up being parented by the government,” said Linda Spears, Vice President of Policy and Public Affairs for the Child Welfare League of America. “We must support all qualified adults who are interested in providing a nurturing, adoptive home—regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation. Having a real live, caring parent is incredibly important for ensuring a child’s success. Rep. Stark’s bill represents progress for these children whose goal is to simply be loved.”

Family Equality Council Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler said the bill addresses “an undisputed child welfare crisis in this country, with more than 500,000 children in foster care and 120,000 of them available for adoption.”

“One in four children in this country is being raised by a single parent, two million children are being raised in LGBT households,” she said. “We all recognize there is no single type of family in America anymore.We must not allow anyone to use politically motivated and specious arguments about safeguarding traditional family structures to deny families to children in need.”

PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) National Executive Director Jody Huckabee says having youth in loving homes with supportive families reduces risk factors such as poverty, homelessness, incarceration, mental illness, and pregnancy. “Our organization has been supporting parents, families and children all over the country for over 35 years, and we know from our experience that it is in the best interest of every child – and, in fact, the right of every child – to have the loving care and support of a family.”

Bill Gram-Reefer, editor and publisher of the Halfway to Concord blog, gave voice to some conservatives’ concerns about such legislation soon after Stark introduced the earlier bill in 2009:

Like a finger looking for any eye to poke this measure would effectively ban government partnerships with any public or private agency that chooses not to place children with same-sex couples. It also raises the very dangerous possiblities of organizations being banned from receiving state certification whether or not they receive government funding, based on over reaching discrimination rules proposed by Stark and others as the new liberal trump card.

The clear irony of Stark’s willingness to cut off the nose to spite the face is that while claiming to advance tolerance, his bigoted legislation works to marginalize groups because of their sincerely-held convictions.