Advancements in Gay and Lesbian Foster Parenting

by Katharine Swan

In light of the current political struggles of gays and lesbians, choosing to be a foster parent may seem like an impossibility. However, despite the efforts of many conservative politicians and lawmakers, in many states it is possible – sometimes even encouraged – for gay and lesbian singles and couples to become foster parents.

This is not to say that the road to foster parenting will necessarily be an easy one. As a gay or lesbian who wishes to parent, you may encounter opposition from many fronts, despite the fact that there are nearly 600,000 children in the foster system today. There is a serious shortage of foster homes for these children, even with gay and lesbian foster parents included in the ranks.

Despite these sad statistics, it seems a significant percentage of the population is determined to further hurt these foster children’s chances by prohibiting gays and lesbians from providing those homes. But even while conservative camps attempt to dehumanize homosexuals by denying them the status and joys of raising a family, gay and lesbian foster parenting has also seen many victories.

The Movement Against Gay and Lesbian Foster Parenting

Over the years, gays and lesbians have seen much opposition to their rights to parent. Despite attempts to limit their access to medical procedures such as artificial insemination and surrogacy –such as one Virginia lawmaker’s efforts – the rights of gays and lesbians to become biological parents has remained unrestricted. Therefore, conservative forces push to restrict the only form of homosexual parenting they have control over: foster parenting and adoption.

As of 2006, half a dozen states – at least – have legislation in place that prevents, in some degree, gays and lesbians from adopting or becoming foster parents. Some states explicitly mention homosexuals in their legislation. Florida is well known for its long-standing ban on gay and lesbian adoption, and Nebraska followed suit in 1995 by prohibiting any “known” gay or lesbian from adopting or foster parenting. Mississippi also bans gay and lesbian couples (but not singles) from adopting, and Oklahoma has passed legislation refusing to acknowledge second parent adoptions – the manner by which an unmarried couple guarantees a child a legal bond with both parents.

Other states have passed laws that indirectly – yet intentionally – prohibit gays and lesbians from adopting or foster parenting. For example, Utah prohibits adoptive or foster children from being placed with unmarried couples, which of course includes gays and lesbians.

Bans on gay and lesbian parenting have been passed more recently, as well. In 2003 North Dakota passed a law giving agencies the legal right to discriminate, by allowing them to refuse to place a child in a home for religious reasons. In 2005 Texas approved a ban on gay and lesbian foster parents, requiring that many thousands of foster children be uprooted – despite the fact that there was already a shortage of available foster homes. Many other states have considered such laws recently; Ohio is contemplating a ban that prevents children from being placed in a home where they would so much as come into contact with a gay or lesbian individual – whether a parent or simply another member of the household.

Evidence of Change

However, despite these recent attempts to restrict homosexuals from adopting or foster parenting, there have also been many victories for gays and lesbians. Politically the issue of gay and lesbian parenting is constantly changing, and that includes positive as well as restrictive changes.

Although conservative forces are pushing for more restrictions on gays and lesbians who want to adopt or become foster parents, there have been many reassuring victories. For instance, in 1999 New Hampshire overturned a law that prevented children from being placed with gays or lesbians, whether as foster or adoptive parents. Also during the late 1990s, many states – most notably Vermont and Connecticut – began to recognize second parent adoptions, which granted an adoptive parent’s unmarried partner the legal status of “parent.”

Many states have resisted attempts to pass bans on gay and lesbian adoptive and foster parents. In Arizona a bill failed that would have prevented single people from becoming foster or adoptive parents. Unfortunately, conservative lawmakers don’t stop with restricting the rights of gays and lesbians to adopt or foster parent: in Utah, the governor had to veto a bill that would have stripped non-biological parents of their rights, and in Virginia a lawmaker tried in vain to pass a law that would make it illegal to help an unmarried woman get pregnant via a medical procedure.

Despite the political furor that conservatives have recently instigated against gays and lesbians, most states continue to exercise tolerance. In 2006 both Missouri and Arkansas have lifted existing bans on gay and lesbian foster parents. In the Arkansas Supreme Court decision, the court stated that there is no proof that having homosexual parents is harmful to the well-being of a child, and that the ban was unlawfully attempting to dictate a moral code to the state’s residents.

The Importance of a Happy Home

The unfortunate result of the political furor over gay and lesbian foster parenting and adoption is that it can serve to deter prospective parents. Despite the homophobic notion that gay and lesbian parents are bad parents, the limited research available overwhelmingly indicates that gays and lesbians are just as good parents as heterosexuals – perhaps even better, possibly because they are more conscious of how their parenting techniques could be interpreted by prejudiced individuals.

The message that bans against gay and lesbian foster parents sends is that no home at all is better than a gay home – and that is clearly not the case. Research does support the theory that children adrift in the foster system for the majority of their lives are more likely to have problems as adults. Unfortunately, that is the fate of many foster children, since there are not enough homes to accommodate the nearly 600,000 children in the foster system.

Diaper Poster The moral of the story is that if foster parenting is something that you want to do, either with or without a partner, in many cases you can. Despite the hurdles that you might face, it is important to pursue your dreams, both for you and for the child – or children – you will bring into your home. They need you as much as you need them.

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