Impeding LGBT Parents Does Not Help Children Who Need Families

All a state is doing when it imposes restrictions is shrinking its pool of prospective parents and, as a result, decreasing the odds that children in its custody will ever live in permanent, loving and successful families.
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Rear view of a boy walking with two men in a park
Rear view of a boy walking with two men in a park

Eventually, every candidate running for president will probably say it. Child-welfare professionals work mightily to practice it. U.S. laws and policies promote its essential truth: Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, permanent, loving family.

Yet tens of thousands of children in our country spend too much of their lives in temporary (i.e., foster) care, unable to return to their original families but without sufficient prospects for moving into new ones.

At the same time, the number of LGBT adults serving as guardians and foster parents -- many of them wanting to adopt -- grows daily. And this reality has raised hopes among children's advocates from coast to coast who see a promising, expanding pool of prospective parents for children who need them.

Even though marriage equality is now the law of the land, however, policies and practices remain in place that impede (and sometimes prevent) members of the LGBT community from becoming parents to these waiting children. On the occasion of National Adoption Awareness Month -- i.e., November -- here are just a few examples:

• Virginia, North Dakota and Michigan have all passed "conscience clause" laws, which allow foster care and adoption providers to exclude LGBT parents based on religious or moral objections. Michigan's was just signed into law this year.

• Arizona and Utah require that preference be given to a "married man and woman" in foster and adoptive placements.

• Utah also imposes a cohabitation ban, which bars individuals who live with unmarried partners (same or different-sex) from adopting.

Some proponents of such restrictions openly acknowledge that they believe gay people are "sinners" or are otherwise problematic simply because of who they are, but most maintain they are motivated primarily by a desire to do what's best for the kids.

It is not homophobia, they insist, to establish policies that promote the benefits of parenting by both a mother and a father who are married to each other. They frequently add that preventing LGBT adults from adopting protects children from being negatively influenced or even physically harmed by the people who are supposed to protect them.

Such arguments are, at best, ill-informed and, in some cases, just plain disingenuous.

If politicians and others who make those assertions truly believe their own words, they should act quickly to remove the millions of supposedly at-risk children who are already in families in which one or both parents are gay. More urgently, they should act expeditiously to end the scourge of single parenthood -- which denies far more kids of two straight, married parents than any other cultural phenomenon in history.

Both suggestions are preposterous, of course, and I'm confident most people eventually will look back at the current restrictions on LGBT parenting and think the same.

The National Center on Adoption and Permanency (NCAP), which I'm honored to lead, is not an LGBT advocacy group. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated not only to helping every child live in an enduring family, but also to promoting evidence-based policies and practices that enable those children and families to succeed. And the evidence in this regard is one-sided and crystal-clear; in a nutshell, it concludes that children grow up healthier in loving homes than in temporary government care, pointedly including when those homes are headed by lesbians or gay men.

That is why a broad range of mainstream organizations - including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Family Physicians, the National Association of Social Workers and the Child Welfare League of America -- have come to the same conclusion as we have at NCAP. These are not groups that would put kids at risk; just the opposite. The common thread is that we work, based on the best available information, for the welfare of children. And we all agree that impeding LGBT adoption does nothing to further that goal.

Not incidentally, most practitioners in the U.S. have come to the same conclusion; that is, a growing majority of adoption agencies nationwide not only accept applications from gay and lesbian prospective parents, but also place children with them. Again, the social workers, therapists and other professionals at these agencies aren't in business to hurt children but, rather, to improve their lives. And they've decided that happens when kids stop shuttling between foster homes and are safely ensconced in permanent ones.

The bottom line is poignantly simple: No state today can prevent LGBT adults from becoming parents, because those adults can do so in other ways (like surrogacy and insemination) or by moving to less-restrictive places. So all a state is doing when it imposes restrictions is shrinking its pool of prospective parents and, as a result, decreasing the odds that children in its custody will ever live in permanent, loving and successful families.

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