Marriage Equality Is the Law, but Assaults on LGBT Parenting (and Much More) Continue

Rear view of a boy walking with two men in a park
Rear view of a boy walking with two men in a park

As the election year progresses, many candidates in both parties and at every level will say it. Child-welfare professionals work mightily to make it a reality. Our country's laws and policies are intended to promote its essential truth: Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, permanent and loving family.

Yet tens of thousands of children in the U.S. spend too much of their young lives in temporary (i.e., foster) care, often 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 -- and even as we see positive developments like the recent Supreme Court decision supporting gay adoption rights - policies and practices are being promoted around our nation that impede (and sometimes prevent) members of the LGBT community from becoming parents to these waiting children. Other state efforts go even further, essentially representing a broader assault on LGBT people and their rights. For example:

• Just a few days ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee in Nebraska approved legislation that would protect faith-based foster care agencies in the state from being penalized for refusing to work with same-sex couples; the committee chair predicted "a war" if the measure reaches the floor for debate. A comparable bill was introduced in the Alabama Legislature last week, too.

• The N.C. General Assembly yesterday took a long step further backward by approving legislation that invalidates Charlotte's legal protections for LGBT individuals -- and the governor quickly signed it into law. Meanwhile, Georgia's Senate has passed a bill that would not only allow taxpayer-funded agencies to reject qualified gay adults from fostering or adopting, but also would prohibit government action against anyone at a state-funded organization on any issue if they "sincerely" believe marriage should only be for heterosexuals.

• 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, while Arizona and Utah require preference to be given to a "married man and woman" for foster and adoptive placements.

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 largely by a desire to do what's best for children.

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 most 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 not heterosexual. 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 rights/protections in general) and will 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 families than in temporary government care, pointedly including when those families are headed by LGBT mothers and fathers.

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 foster or adoptive parenting -- or rights and protections -- 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 child welfare 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.

I've written this before, and it's worth repeating now: The bottom line is poignantly simple. No state today can prevent LGBT adults from becoming fathers and mothers, because they can do so by taking other routes (such as surrogacy and insemination) or by simply moving to less-restrictive places. So all a state does when it imposes restrictions is shrink its pool of prospective parents and, as a result, decrease the odds that children in its custody will ever live in permanent, loving and successful families.