Republicans have been in power in the Tennessee State Legislature for mere weeks, and already they’ve set their crosshairs on the gay and lesbian community once again. Two years ago, Tennessee was the battleground for “marriage protection amendment” to the state’s constitution which prevents gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

That amendment passed in 2006 by more than 80 per cent of the vote. This time, it’s adoption rights.
A new bill, SB 0078, filed by State Senator Paul Stanley (R-Memphis) would dictate: “a minor may not be adopted if the individual seeking to adopt is cohabiting outside of a marriage that is valid under the constitution and laws of this state.”

Similar legislation failed in 2006, but unlike that bill, the new bill isn’t an exclusively anti-gay legislation. To be fair, Stanley decided he should stick it to unmarried straight couples as well. According to the official summary:

This bill prohibits certain individuals from adopting a minor child. Under this bill, any individual who is living with another person and is involved in a sexual relationship with that person (“cohabiting”) outside of a marriage that is valid under the constitution would not be allowed to adopt a minor child. This bill states that it would apply to cohabiting opposite-sex and same-sex individuals.

The bill would not affect single adults who live alone.

The Urban Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C. compiled a comprehensive study in March of 2007 regarding adoption by families with gay and lesbian couples. It includes state-by-state data that offers some startling numbers.

In Tennessee, there are 30,980 adopted children, with 384 of those children having been adopted by same-sex couples, making it 28th out of 51 in the number of children in gay adoptions. The study reveals that Same-sex couples are more likely to adopt children with physical differences, and are more likely to adopt minority children.

Nationwide, more than two million gay and lesbian couples are interested in adopting. At present, an estimated 65,500 adopted children are living with a lesbian or gay parent.

The Urban study also researched fostering, which is also relevant to the discussion. More than 14,000 children in foster care are estimated to be living with gay and lesbian parents nationwide. Of foster children with non-kin families, 44% are living with couples who aren’t married heterosexuals. In fact, 30% of the children are with single heterosexuals, and 8% are with unmarried heterosexual couples.

But how would that relate to Tennessee, should Senator Stanley decide to go after foster parenting too? Right now, there are between 198 to 297 children in Tennessee which are in foster care under gay parents. If those gay parents were to be taken off the foster parenting list, nearly 300 children would be put back into state custody, which would cost the state between $1.5 Million to $2.3 Million each year. Put simply, the notion of denying gay or unmarried couples the ability to adopt is an expensive one.

Several arguments have been presented in an attempt to submit legitimate reasons to deny adoption by same-sex couples, many of which are anecdotal at best:

  • “Children are better off with one father and one mother.” Whether or not this is true, it is entirely irrelevant to issues of adoption. Every state allows adoption by single adults. Denying adoption by same-sex or cohabiting couples is ridiculous, especially when a single adult would seemingly – and likely – eventually form a relationship that may every well result in cohabiting.
  • “Gay children shouldn’t be allowed to adopt because the statistics show that they’re likely to be child molesters.” This is a popular, if not mean-spirited myth. However, it IS a myth. In fact, a 1998 study Journal of the American Medical Association, only about 2% of the convicted child molesters say they are gay (that’s lower than the total national average of gay men, by the way). What gets a bit dodgy in its application is the fact that adult men are more likely to molest male children. This is due to the fact that they’re more likely to have unsupervised access to male children. Nearly all child molesters identify as straight, and many are married and in roles that allow direct access to their victims. Quite simply, there is simply no established connection between pedophilia and adult male homosexual orientation.
  • “Children raised by gay parents will turn gay.” Just like children raised by straight parents always turn out straight?
  • “It’s morally wrong to cohabit.” Yes, many people believe this due to religious conviction, but religion does not dictate public policy in the United States. Sorry.

The reality is that there is an entire network of highly-trained professionals who are specifically suited to help decide what is best for each individual child. In January 2002, the Child Welfare League of America made a similar observation:

The CWLA’s Standards of Excellence for Adoption Services state, “Applicants should be assessed on the basis of their abilities to successfully parent a child needing family membership and not on their race, ethnicity or culture, income, age, marital status, religion, appearance, differing lifestyles, or sexual orientation.” Further, applicants for adoption should be accepted “on the basis of an individual assessment of their capacity to understand and meet the needs of a particular available child at the point of adoption and in the future.”

The task handed to social workers, state agencies, and judges is to determine what is a suitable home for a child in the public child welfare system. But, as [Joan Heifetz Hollinger, a visiting professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law and a leading scholar on adoption law and practice] points out, “there are no tests of suitability. Where is the standard? Where is the evidence that certain parents do better?”

In other words, each adoption is handled on a case-by-case basis. Removing hundreds of couples from even being considered is a disservice to not only those couples, but the children they would have otherwise been able to adopt.

In April 2001, the American Sociological Review published an article by Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz of the University of Southern California. The article, which reported the findings of an examination of 21 studies on gay parenting found that the studies shared a common theme: gay parents do just fine. More specifically:

Stacey and Biblarz also found that the children of homosexual parents show no difference in levels of self-esteem, anxiety, depression, behavior problems, or social performance, but do show a higher level of affection, responsiveness, and concern for younger children and “seem to exhibit impressive psychological strength.”

Gay parents were found to be more likely to equally share child care and household duties, and the children of gay partners reported closer relationships to the parent who was not their primary caregiver than did the children of heterosexual couples. “These findings imply that lesbian coparents may enjoy greater parental compatibility and achieve particularly high quality parenting skills, which may help explain the striking findings on parent-child relationships.”

But the Child Welfare League of America isn’t the only organization which supports adoption by gay couples. They are joined by:

  • The National Association of Social Workers
  • The American Psychiatric Association
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics

When we consider all of these facts, it becomes clear that denying same-sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples the right to even be considered from adopting, the only people who are truly hurt are the children. I’m astonished that Sen. Stanley and other conservatives would rather attack his skewed vision of “morality” instead of letting the our Department of Children’s Services do their job.

Who do our legislators think they are, that they believe that they are more qualified than the thousands of social workers, judges, and other professionals who work to ensure the best possible home for our children? Senator Stanley should be utterly ashamed that he filed this bill, and it should be soundly and completely rejected by all of his peers.

Our state — and our children — deserve far better.

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