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Promote Permanency: Resist the Trend to Restrict LGBT Parenting

Winter 2006 Adoptalk

by Kara S. Suffredini

Kara Suffredini is a legislative lawyer with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the oldest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights and advocacy organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C. To find out how you can promote wider permanency options for waiting children, please write to ksuffredini@theTaskForce.org.

“Children would be better off in orphanages than in homosexual or bisexual households,” said Texas State Representative Robert Talton in April 2005 while trying to amend a Child Protective Services reform bill. Had it become law, Representative Talton’s amendment not only would have prevented lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals from becoming foster parents, it also would have required Texas’ Department of Family and Protective Services to seek out and remove foster children from homes with a lesbian, gay, or bisexual foster parent.

Regrettably, while proposals like Representative Talton’s used to arise in only a few states annually, the number of proposed bans on adoption and/or fostering by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in the 2005 state legislative session swelled to 11 bills in 8 states. Worse yet, advocates in at least 12 states expect similar legislation in 2006. In half those states—Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee—the proposals may attempt to amend the state’s constitution.

Since when does it serve children’s best interests to be denied permanent placement in stable and loving families or to further stress the foster care system by diminishing the pool of safe and caring individuals who want to raise children? Put simply, it doesn’t. It is essential, therefore, that child advocates come together to resist unwarranted restrictions that threaten to gravely harm tens of thousands of children who need loving families.

Barriers to Placement

Three states explicitly restrict LGBT adoption. Florida’s law—the most sweeping ban—prohibits “homosexual” individuals from adopting, but not from serving as foster parents. Mississippi prohibits adoption by same-sex couples, and Oklahoma purports to not recognize adoptions by same-sex couples performed in other states.

Utah does not openly ban LGBT adoption, but does require that an adoptive parent not be living with a romantic partner outside of marriage. Utah’s constitutional definition of marriage, adopted in 2004, ensures that lesbian and gay couples cannot meet such a requirement. In North Dakota, agencies that receive state contracts can reject prospective parents on religious grounds. Under the law, Catholic service agencies, for example, might refuse to place children with LGBT parents by citing a religious belief that homosexuality is immoral.

LGBT parents also face discrimination in the courts and from individual agencies. Some judges use sexual orientation or gender identity to deny adoption or foster care placements. In some parts of the country, social service agencies will not approve adoption applications from lesbians and gay men simply as a matter of practice.[1]

Despite these obstacles, the landscape is not entirely bleak. Most states allow LGBT individuals to foster or adopt and about half have laws or court decisions recognizing adoptions by same-sex couples. In 2004, a court struck down a 1999 Child Welfare Agency Review Board policy in Arkansas that banned lesbians and gay men—and any person living with them—from being foster parents. In addition, a new Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute study found that 60 percent of U.S. adoption agencies accept applications from LGBT people, and two in five agencies have placed a child with an LGBT person.

Families Affected

Although we don’t know exactly how many LGBT people in the U.S. are raising children—primarily because we don’t know how many people in the U.S. are LGBT—data from the 2000 Census indicate that one-third of reporting female same-sex couples and a quarter of reporting male same-sex couples are raising at least one child under 18 years of age. Female same-sex couples reported parenting at about three-quarters the rate of married opposite-sex couples, while male same-sex couples reported parenting at about half the rate of married opposite-sex couples.

We also know that LGBT individuals are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to foster and adopt children with special needs, and that same-sex couples raising children live in ninety-six percent of all U.S. counties—most highly concentrated in the South and the Midwest. In addition, Hispanic and African-American same-sex couples are raising children at higher rates than their Caucasian counterparts, a finding that suggests the disproportionately negative impact that parenting restrictions have on communities of color.[2]

Focusing on the Facts

Every leading child welfare organization in the U.S., including the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the Child Welfare League of America, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, opposes blanket parenting restrictions based on sexual orientation. In 1999, the American Bar Association also adopted a resolution encouraging the creation of laws and public policy that prohibit using sexual orientation as a barrier to adoption when adoption by an LGBT individual is in a child’s best interest.

Furthermore, no credible, scientific study has found any reason to question the quality of LGBT individuals’ parenting or the well-being of their children. To the contrary, studies universally have found that:

  • Lesbian and gay individuals and same-sex couples parent as well as heterosexuals. In some cases, they may even be better at managing disagreements. One study found that lesbian mothers, when compared to heterosexual mothers, responded to behavior problems in ways that were more attentive to their children’s needs.[3]
  • Lesbian and gay parents can provide children with good modeling and a healthy childhood. As the American Psychological Association reports, “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.”[4] Research on transgender parents has resulted in similar findings.
  • There is no link between lesbian or gay parenting and the risk of sexual abuse. A 1998 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association notes that 90 percent of pedophiles are men and 95 percent of these men are heterosexual.

Promoting Permanency

Approximately 523,000 children are currently in foster care nationally, and nearly 120,000 are waiting to be adopted. Many have special needs. Their greatest need, however, is for permanent, committed, and caring families.

That is why national and local child welfare organizations, advocacy groups, medical professionals, and faith leaders are teaming up to defeat blanket bans on LGBT parenting and promote permanency for children. If you would like to help focus legislative and ballot campaigns on what is best for children and families, tell stories of successful placements with LGBT parents. Have you placed a child with a qualified LGBT parent? Are you willing to share your expertise and your story? Want to get involved? Write to me at ksuffredini@ theTaskForce.org.

The best interests of children are served when child welfare agencies are able to perform individualized assessments of a prospective parent’s ability to foster or adopt a child. LGBT individuals and couples are safe, loving, and able parents and an important resource for children, especially those who are waiting in foster care for permanent families. States, particularly those with the highest proportion of LGBT parents, cannot afford, socially or financially, to ignore this pool of willing and qualified parents. Nor can the waiting children in their charge.


[1] The American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian & Gay Rights Project. Too High a Price: The Case against Restricting Gay Parenting. New York: American Civil Liberties Union, 2005, p. 13.

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[2] Cianciotto, J. Hispanic and Latino Same-Sex Couple Households in the United States: A Report from the 2000 Census. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Latino/a Coalition for Justice, 2005, p. 53; Dang, A. and Frazer, S. Black Same Sex Households in the United States: A Report from the 2000 Census. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and National Black Justice Coalition, 2004, p. 22.

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[3] Miller, J.A., Jacobsen, B., and Bigner, J. “The Child’s Home Environment for Lesbian vs. Heterosexual Mothers: A Neglected Area of Research.” Journal of Homosexuality 8 (1981): 49–56.

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[4] Patterson, C. J. Lesbian and Gay Parenting: A Resource for Psychologists. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1995. Online at www.apa.org.

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St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: 651-644-3036
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