Blog of Rights

Family Values on Capitol Hill

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 6:57pm

Earlier this week, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R. 4806). This legislation would help to reduce the number of children languishing in state-run facilities by providing them with loving, permanent homes. It would do this by limiting federal funding to states that discriminate in adoption and foster care placements based on the potential parents’ sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

It is estimated that at any given time, there are roughly 500,000 children in the child welfare system, with 125,000 waiting to be adopted. According to the Family Equality Council, there are approximately 1 million lesbian and gay parents raising about 2 million children across the United States. 

This may help to explain why the nation’s leading child health and welfare organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Welfare League of America, have all expressed their strong support for allowing gay and lesbian couples or unmarried LGBT individuals to be adoptive or foster parents.

With such an obvious need for loving and supportive parents and homes, passing this legislation would seem like a no-brainer. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act is really, at its core, aimed at advancing child welfare by providing some of the most vulnerable members of society with a greater opportunity to attain the stability of a permanent home with loving parents.

On Thursday, the Family Equality Council and a number of other organizations hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill to help make the case for why the Every Child Deserves a Family Act is such a needed piece of legislation. The ACLU’s own Leslie Cooper discussed the current state of play with respect to litigation challenging state laws that deny children adoptive or foster placements with gay parents. In particular, she discussed ongoing ACLU lawsuits in Florida and Arkansas.

The star of the congressional briefing was, without question, ACLU client Martin Gill. Martin and his partner of 10 years have been raising two boys – brothers originally placed in their care through the Florida foster care system – for six years. Because of Florida’s law, which is the only one in the country to provide a blanket ban against adoption by LGBT individuals, they have been unable to formally adopt the boys. This is despite the fact that, after arriving to them in a state of neglect, they are thriving and very much a bonded, happy family. With the help of the ACLU, the Gill family has challenged Florida’s nonsensical law, which is so restrictive that it even prevents children in the foster care system from being placed with their own family member if those family members happen to be gay or lesbian. Far from valuing and protecting families, this law tears them apart.

It’s hard to put into a few short words how powerful Martin’s presentation was. It’s clear that Martin and his partner are very good dads, and for Florida to deny their children the security and permanence that would come from formal adoption is not only unfair, it is profoundly cruel. A state judge ruled last November that Florida’s law is unconstitutional because it both fails to promote children’s welfare and actually works against it by denying children good families. The case is currently working its way through the appeals process. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Martin and his partner can formally adopt their two boys.

Cooper also discussed the ACLU’s challenge in Arkansas to what is known simply as Act 1. Passed by voters in 2008, Act 1 bans adoption and fostering by anyone cohabitating with an unmarried partner. Among the plaintiffs in the challenge to Act 1 is Sheila Cole. Because of Act 1, Sheila was not permitted to adopt her own infant granddaughter who had been taken into state custody because of severe abuse by her parents. The reason the state is denying Sheila and her granddaughter the security that would come from adoption? Sheila lives with her same-sex partner and the child they are raising together. The challenge to Act 1 is scheduled to go to trial in May, so be sure to check back to aclu.org for frequent updates.

Listening to Martin at the briefing, I thought about the politicians who frequently like to pontificate on the floor of the House and Senate about family values and the need to protect families. Well, senators and representatives, there is now legislation before you in the Every Child Deserves a Family Act that aims to do just that. To those who like to talk about family values, I say it’s time to put your words into action. Show your support for family values by actually valuing families – all of them.

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