Monday, March 20, 2006

Is Gay Adoption the Next Challenge?

(Link) More than half a million kids are in foster care, but only 10,000 find permanent homes each year -- with gays and lesbians taking in the hard-to-place kids. Could gay adoption be more winnable than marriage rights?

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Bonnie Miller Rubin
Chicago Tribune

Like any new parents, Steve McDonagh and Daniel Smith eagerly brag about the unique talents of their 8-month-old son.

"He loves swimming," McDonagh joked. "He's a great sleeper and a champion pooper," Smith added.

The men, who live in Rogers Park, have been together for the last decade. In their early 40s and with a successful restaurant and catering business, they felt ready for fatherhood.

On July 9 Nate entered the world, and his birthparents, working with the Cradle in Evanston, chose McDonagh and Smith to adopt him.

"We were very lucky," Smith said. "Everyone--including our families--was very supportive."

Not everyone views their domestic situation so benevolently. In recent weeks a flurry of activity has focused new attention on same-sex adoption, which is being touted as the next battleground in the nation's culture wars.

Some states, including Ohio, are considering legislation to bar gays from adopting. When local church officials ordered Catholic Charities of Boston to stop placing children in same-sex households, the agency decided earlier this month to get out of the adoption business entirely.

Critics of gay adoption say children are damaged by growing up in such households. But many child-welfare advocates disagree, saying that if gay couples are ruled out as adoptive parents, it means children who desperately need homes will have that much longer to wait.

Catholic Charities in San Francisco is "reviewing its adoption program to determine how we can continue to best serve the interests of these vulnerable children," said Brian Cahill, a spokesman for the agency, which has placed five children out of 136 adoptions in same-sex homes in the last five years.

In 2003 the Vatican called the practice "gravely immoral."

"The teachings of the church are paramount, but equally paramount are the needs of these kids," said Cahill, adding that 60 percent wait two years before finding a home. "Managing the tension of those two goals is a challenge."

At Catholic Charities of Chicago--which facilitates the adoption of children in foster care under contract with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services--the issue is not being discussed, according to spokeswoman April Specht.

The agency makes placements based on the best interests of the child, DCFS' licensing standards and other state laws, Specht said in a statement. In Illinois, prospective foster and adoptive parents can be either single individuals or married couples, and Specht declined to say whether singles would be approved if they were in a same-sex relationship.

The state does not know the sexual orientations involved in the 200 adoptions in the last year that Catholic Charities facilitated for children who were wards of the state, said Diane Jackson of DCFS.

"We absolutely have a non-discriminatory policy, so that is information that we don't document, inquire about, track or judge," she said. "Our focus is permanency ... and whatever home is safe, loving and nurturing."

State laws are mixed-bag

Many Americans, Catholic and otherwise, are opposed to placing children in gay households. Social conservatives hope the issue will rally voters in the same way that same-sex marriage brought them to the polls in 2004.

"We are paying attention to this in the larger context of the gay-marriage debate," said Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group. "We see it as all one piece that is interconnected."

Nationwide, laws on the issue are a hodgepodge. Florida has long banned gay adoption, though such couples can be foster parents. In Utah, only heterosexual, married couples can adopt, excluding not just gays but single people--who are allowed to adopt in virtually every other state. Mississippi nixes gay couples but not gay singles. Last month in Ohio, a bill was introduced that would bar homosexuals from adopting or being foster parents.

About 520,000 children are in foster care, according to the North American Council on Adoptable Children. Of those, 120,000 are available for adoption, but only 50,000 find permanent homes each year. In Illinois, some 2,220 children are waiting to be adopted. Experts say gay people take in some of the most hard-to-place children--those who are older or have mental, emotional or physical disabilities.

Mary Anne Hackett, president of the Concerned Catholics of Illinois, a conservative organization, asserts that children suffer long-term "damage" in such placements.

"Children do best with a mother and a father. ... Kids would be better off in foster care than with a homosexual couple," she said.

A tough sell?

But John Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, thinks that will be a tough sell to the electorate.

"The crucial difference between gay marriage and gay adoption is that only one redefined marriage," Pitney said. "But we already have a number of single people adopting children, so it's not really parallel.

"The question: Is it better for a child to find a home with a gay couple than not finding a home at all? If it's framed that way, I think it will be very difficult for proponents [of anti-gay measures] to gain traction. But if it rests on religious liberty, that will be a different issue."

In recent years, adoption agencies with Jewish or Lutheran ties have welcomed gay and lesbian applicants.

"I can't even tell you when we started," said Lynn Goffinet, statewide director of adoption for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. "Probably before we knew it."

The Cradle, a non-sectarian agency, has placed 15 children with gay parents--including McDonagh and Smith--since 2003, according to its president, Julie Tye. The board approved such placements after studying research. Groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Welfare League of America have come out with research saying children do not suffer any adverse effects.

All agree there is no such thing as an ideal environment. For children with behavior disorders, the best match may be a single mother or father because the child cannot pit one parent against the other, said Goffinet, a veteran of 40 years in the field. For a biracial child, a gay couple might bring a "heightened awareness of what it means to be different," Tye said.

"They also haven't been torn up emotionally by the infertility industry," she said. "By the time heterosexual couples come to us, they've already experienced so many losses."

Acceptance appears to be rising

Sixty percent of adoption agencies now work with gays and lesbians, and the number of such families is growing steadily, according to a 2003 study of same-sex adoptions conducted by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a New York-based research and advocacy group.

But Adam Pertman, the group's executive director, warns against painting Catholic Charities in Boston "as a bunch of homophobes." The fact that the agency formerly approved such adoptions--placing 13 children out of 720 adoptions in gay homes since 1987, according to the Boston Globe--is indicative of the issue's growing acceptance.

"I hope they find a way to resolve this ... because anything that deprives kids of potential parents is a real downer to say the least," Pertman said.

Any initiatives that would bar gays and lesbians from adopting would not keep them from parenting, because they already have children through surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization, he added.

"So really, who does this serve?" Pertman said.

As the rhetorical battle is waged in churches and in the political arena, McDonagh and Smith don't have much time to take a stance. They're too busy working (they also have a show, "Party Line With the Hearty Boys," on the Food Network) and doting on Nate to get involved.

"We really don't encounter a lot of prejudice," Smith said. "We just have a lot of fun."