March 5, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Adoption anti-discrimination bill gets reboot

Jennifer Chrisler (Photo courtesy of familyequality.org)

An adoption anti-discrimination bill previously introduced in the U.S. House is set to get a new start this week when the bill’s sponsor reintroduces it with modified language.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, is planning to reintroduce the bill — which would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people seeking to adopt children — after having introduced it for the first time last year.

Additionally, on March 11, Stark plans to lead a congressional briefing panel on Capitol Hill featuring discussion from experts on LGBT adoption. The dialogue is intended to educate lawmakers on the bill’s importance.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, said the reintroduced legislation would be similar in scope to the previously introduced bill, except it would make technical changes and allow for new education opportunities for programs helping children find homes.

“This bill added some language around training and education to help people understand what it is that they can and should do when it comes to looking for potential parents,” she said.

The earlier version of the adoption anti-discrimination bill has 14 co-sponsors. Chrisler said the co-sponsors for the earlier legislation would go to the newer version upon its introduction.

To bar discrimination against LGBT people seeking to adopt, the proposed legislation would restrict federal funds for states that have laws or practices barring LGBT people from taking children into their homes.

Currently, three states bar LGBT people from adopting children. Another seven states don’t permit same-sex couples to jointly adopt. Florida, for example, has a statute in place prohibiting gays from adopting, while Arkansas voters in 2008 approved Act 1, which prevents all co-habitating unmarried couples from adopting children.

The laws in 34 other states are unclear about whether same-sex couples may jointly adopt, sometimes resulting in discrimination.

Chrisler said the legislation is intended to provide an incentive for states so they don’t discriminate and instead “focus on what’s in the best interest of the children, which is really finding the right home for that particular child.”

The legislation, Chrisler said, would help thousands of children in foster care throughout the country find new homes.

“This is fundamentally, at its heart, a child welfare bill that seeks to open up more pools of potential parents to provide a loving, stable home environment to children who need those homes,” she said.

Chrisler said about 500,000 children in the U.S. are in the foster care system, and about 120,000 are legally available for adoption.

Children who never find homes have been found to be at greater risk for various problems as they enter adulthood. Chrisler said in 2007, more than 25,000 youth “aged out” of the foster care system, and these children were at higher risk for poverty, homelessness, incarceration and early parenthood.

“A bill like this helps shine a light on the fact that the more available parents that we have to provide loving, permanent homes for children who need them, the better the outcomes for those kids will be,” Chrisler said.

Chrisler said research from the Williams Institute, a think-tank on sexual orientation at the University of California, Los Angeles, shows that more than 2 million LGBT people throughout the country have considered becoming parents, but are barred from existing state laws from doing so.

“If even a quarter of them became foster or adoptive parents, it would meet the needs of all 500,000 children waiting in the foster care system,” she said.

The Every Child Deserves a Family Act is modeled after the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 as amended in 1996, which similarly prohibits states from receiving federal funds if they engage in racial or ethnic discrimination when placing children into homes.

Asked whether she thinks Congress will pass the legislation this year, Chrisler expressed uncertainty but noted that advocates will continue to support its passage.

“I’m optimistic that we can leverage this bill to have really good educational conversations,” she said. “I think as anybody who has watched Congress knows, the process of making a bill into a law is a complicated one, but we are going to put all of our energy and all our resources into trying to do just that.”

Chrisler said Stark is optimistic the bill will have a hearing in the House Ways & Means subcommittee to which it’s been assigned.

She also said advocates are working on getting a Senate companion for the bill introduced, although she declined to disclose which senator she was seeking as a sponsor for the legislation.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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