Today Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), all Senate and House lead sponsors, discussed the Every Child Deserves a Family Act of 2013 at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol. (See youtube of news conference, click to get the photos) Their legislation limits federal funding for adoption agencies involved in discriminatory placement practices for foster children seeking adoption into capable, loving single-parent families or families headed by same-sex couples. The bill also eliminates discriminatory barriers blocking the adoption of LGBT children, who are readily found in the ranks of the homeless.
"The single biggest problem our nation's foster care system is facing," said Emily Hecht-McGowan, Director of Public Policy for the Family Equality Council, "is the lack of available, stable, and loving homes." According to the most recent estimates, about 400,000 children currently matriculate in the foster care system and more than 100,000 of them are eligible for adoption. National surveys suggest that as many as two million LGBT families would consider adopting foster children if barriers were eliminated. Couple this with the thousands of capable single-parent households eligible to adopt, and it is clear that the problem of foster care adoption could potentially be eliminated by the passage of this legislation.
"New York has been a leader on ensuring that any family can adopt children and set a great example for the rest of the country," U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said. "Every child deserves a loving home, and it is just wrong to keep children from a brighter future with a loving family by discriminating against adoptive parents based on their sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity. By removing all barriers for loving, committed LGBT couples to serve as foster parents we will uphold a core American value. I hope we can come together and pass this important legislation that would open thousands of new foster and adoptive homes."
"This bill highlights why discrimination in any form is unreasonable in a civilized society," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis. "You do the math. Our society has the chance to eradicate the foster care adoption problem entirely, if this bill is passed and enforced. It mandates that agencies put nothing before the happiness and well-being of our children and use every measure to place them with willing, capable adoptive families, regardless of their make-up. Every healthy family has an equal opportunity to give a child a home. The persistence of discriminatory policy robs us of that opportunity."
"I'm proud to join Rep. John Lewis and Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand," said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, "in introducing the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, a common-sense legislation that will open the hearts and homes of so many parents who are qualified and ready to give all their love and nurturing to children who are in the foster care system. All children deserve the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful home life with loving parents. Our bill will decrease the length of time that a child has to wait for a permanent home with a loving family by preventing discrimination in adoption and foster care placements based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. Without this legislation, many families who are longing to provide children with an adequate home environment will continue to be arbitrarily turned away on the subjective and prejudicial basis of who they are."
"In our 40 years of experience supporting parents and children all over the country, we have seen the positive effects parental support can make in the life of a child," said PFLAG National Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby. "This is truly discrimination at its worst: hurtful to the people who are being denied the opportunity to become parents, and harmful to thousands of vulnerable children being denied the opportunity for stable, loving, permanent homes."
The bill is important because most state law does not require non-discrimination in foster care adoption agency policy, and a few have specifically supported discrimination within the process.
Florida is the only state with a statutory ban prohibiting LGBT families from adopting, however it was recently declared unconstitutional by a Florida State Appellate Court. Utah and Arkansas have laws barring adoption by unmarried partners, affecting both same sex and single parent families. Arizona law allows agencies to give preference to married heterosexual couples in the adoption process, and just last year Virginia passed a law permitting agencies to discriminate against children and potential parents based on any written moral or religious policy. In states that mandate comprehensive relationship recognition through marriage equality, civil unions or domestic partnerships, adoption rights are protected, but states that bar co-habitation also effectively deny adoption by same sex couples.
This legislation gives clear guidance to states about the federal guidelines surrounding adoption policy. Increasing adoption rates, as well as establishing children in permanent homes that help decrease risk factors for those youth can yield an annual federal cost savings of between $3 and $6 billion.