Mississippi Advances Unconstitutional Gay Adoption Ban That Also Bars Recognition of Gay Adoptions in Other States

March 7, 2000 12:00 am

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JACKSON, MS – Going further than any state that has considered banning lesbian and gay adoption, the Mississippi House Judiciary Committee today passed a bill that would severely curtail the number of children who can move from foster care into permanent, suitable adoptive homes.

The legislation would ban gay and lesbian couples from adopting children, and — in an unprecedented, sweeping provision — it would also forbid the state of Mississippi from recognizing lesbian and gay adoptions that have previously been granted by courts in other states.

“This legislation is unconstitutional, and we believe that if it is passed by Mississippi’s legislature and signed into law, a federal court will strike it down,” said Matthew Coles, Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. The bill now moves to the full House in Mississippi.

“There are far more pressing issues facing children and families in Mississippi,” said David Ingebretsen, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “Our state is last or near last in the nation in the number of children living in poverty, the percentage of pregnant women without prenatal care and the number of children lacking health insurance. Our representatives need to be lifting families and children up — not debating divisive, discriminatory, unconstitutional legislation.”

The ACLU vowed to continue fighting the bill, in coalition with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and other fair-minded groups with a strong grassroots presence in Mississippi.

“The goal of adoption is to make sure that the child has a permanent home with people who have the skills to be good parents,” said NGLTF Executive Director Kerry Lobel. “The issue of adoption is best decided by judges and professionals on a case-by-case basis, not by politicians or the government.”

“If the anti-adoption bill passes, it will result in Mississippi children who are desperately seeking placement in loving families, including committed gay and lesbian couples, being denied permanent homes. This legislation is not just an attack on gay and lesbian people. It’s an attack on children,” she added.

There are an estimated 500,000 children in foster care nationwide, and 100,000 of these children are awaiting adoption. But in 1997, the last year for which statistics are available, there were qualified adoptive parents for only 20,000 (or 20 percent), of these children.

Consideration of the Mississippi bill comes at a time when the number of gay and lesbian families is steadily increasing. According to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association, “not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents” and concluded that “home environments provided by gay and lesbian parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.”

At today’s hearing, proponents of the bill cited the ACLU’s Weigand v. Houghton case to demonstrate the need for such broad legislation. In that case, the ACLU represented a gay father suing for custody of his son. The boy was living with his mother and violently abusive stepfather. The Mississippi Supreme Court refused, and even restricted the father’s visitation. After Mississippi courts lost jurisdiction of the case, a court in California (where the father lives) granted him full custody. Supporters of the anti-adoption bill in Mississippi used the case as an example of courts’ increasing willingness to place children with lesbian and gay parents.

— Fact sheet on lesbian/gay adoption

— Background on Weigand v. Houghton

— Mainstream national children’s groups’ statements on lesbian/gay adoption (follow below)

The Child Welfare League of America
CWLA was founded in 1920, and is the nation’s oldest and largest organization “devoted entirely to the well-being of America’s vulnerable children and families.” More than 1,000 agencies – assisting more than 2 million children and families annually.

“All applicants [for adoption] should have an equal opportunity to apply for the adoptions of children, and receive fair and equal treatment and consideration of their qualifications as adoptive parents, under applicable law.

“Applicants should be fairly assessed on their abilities to successfully parent a child needing family membership and not on their appearance, differing lifestyle, or sexual preference.

“Agencies should assess each applicant from the perspective of what would be in the best interests of the child. Those interests are paramount.

“Sexual preference should not be the sole criteria on which the suitability of adoptive applicants is based. Consideration should be given to other personality and maturity factors and on the ability of the applicant to meet the specific needs of the individual child.”

– From CWLA’s Standards Regarding Sexual Orientation of Applicants, adopted in 1988

The North American Council on Adoptable Children
NACAC in one of the nation’s foremost centers of expertise on adoption and foster care

“Everyone with the potential to successfully parent a child in foster care or adoption is entitled to fair and equal consideration regardless of sexual orientation or differing life style or physical appearance.”

– Policy statement adopted March 14, 1998

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