October 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Gillibrand to introduce adoption anti-discrimination bill

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is set to introduce legislation next week that would bar discrimination against prospective LGBT parents looking to adopt.

Gillibrand plans to introduce the legislation, known as the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, on Monday, according to her office. It would be first time the measure has been introduced in the Senate.

The bill would restrict federal funds for states if they have laws or practices allowing for discrimination in adoption on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a statement, Gillibrand hailed her own state of New York for removing barriers in allowing LGBT parents to adopt and said other states should follow that example.

“New York is a leader on ensuring that any family can adopt children and sets a great example for the rest of the country,” Gillibrand said. “By removing all barriers for LGBT families to serve as foster parents, New York State has increased its foster parent pool by 128,000 prospective parents. This legislation would open thousands of new foster and adoptive homes to children ensuring they are raised in loving families.”

Original co-sponsors of the bill are Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). The bill is currently being scored by the Congressional Budget Office and will likely be sent to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Washington Blade previously reported in March that Gillibrand intended to introduce the adoption anti-discrimination bill. She didn’t formally announce her intentions until Friday.

According to Gillibrand’s office, most states permit single LGBT parents to adopt, but some don’t allow LGBT couples to do so. Five states prohibit same-sex couples outright from adopting: Utah, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina and Michigan. Additionally, six states ban same-sex parents from adopting their partner’s children.

More than two dozen states have no laws on adoption for prospective LGBT foster and adoptive parents. According to Gillibrand’s office, the lack of non-discrimination policies in these states leaves potential LGBT parents vulnerable to agencies and case workers’ biases.

Companion legislation is sponsored in the House by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.). As of Friday, the legislation had 76 co-sponsors. Among them is one Republican: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

In a statement, Stark praised Gillibrand for introducing the legislation in the Senate in time for the celebration of National Adoption Month in November.

“This legislation is about finding solid, permanent and loving homes for the 107,000 foster children waiting to be adopted,” Stark said. “That’s why 76 of my colleagues have joined me in sponsoring the House version.  It is time to put the best interests of children first and remove all discriminatory barriers in our child welfare system.”

President Obama hasn’t yet endorsed the legislation, but the White House has said it supports the goals of the bill.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said, “The president has long believed that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals based on their interest in offering a loving home, not based on discriminatory and irrelevant factors. He recognizes that adoptive families come in many forms, and that we must do all we can to break down barriers to ensure that all qualified caregivers have the ability to serve as adoptive families. While we have not reviewed this specific legislation, we share its goals and hope that the dialogue moves forward on this issue.”

An estimated 400,000 children are in the U.S. foster care system, and more than 107,000 children are waiting for adoption. In 2010, nearly 28,000 youth nationwide “aged out” of the foster care system without finding parents.

Advocates praised Gillibrand for introducing the legislation and said it would help both LGBT parents and children seeking homes.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, said the legislation would address what she referred to as the “child welfare crisis in our country.”

“More than one-third of the children in foster care could be placed with a family right now, but state laws are eliminating loving and qualified parents simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status,” Chrisler said. “Our country cannot continue to deny these children forever families because of the flawed patchwork of state laws.”

Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs for the Child Welfare League of America, joined those praising Gillibrand.

“Far too many children in foster care have little hope for a permanent family and end up being parented by the government,” Spears. “We must support all qualified adults who are interested in providing a nurturing, adoptive home — regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation.”

Jeff Krehely, director of the LGBT research and communications project at the Center for American Progress, said Gillibrand’s bill “would have a tremendous and positive impact on people who are LGBT and want to adopt.”

“More importantly, it would really help the hundreds of thousands of kids who are in the foster care system and need forever homes,” Krehely said. “Too many states have laws and regulations that create barriers for LGBT people to adopt, which means more of these kids need to wait a long time before finding a family. This law would remove those barriers and make sure state laws finally catch up to the facts: LGBT people are just as good at parenting as people who are not LGBT.”

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.

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

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