Gay adoption set for national stage

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 7 2011 10:33 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A contentious debate is simmering around the country about whether the government can force faith-based adoption agencies to give gay and lesbian couples equal opportunity for adopting foster children.

Thus far the question has been handled on a state-by-state basis — nine states and the District of Columbia affirmatively allow same-sex adoptions, four states prohibit it, and the other 37 states neither forbid nor actively protect so-called gay adoptions.

However, thanks to a bill now under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives, the issue is quickly morphing from one of state oversight to a matter of national scope.

A philosophical fissure exists because most adoption agencies affiliated with a religious denomination — think Catholic Charities — oppose homosexuality on moral grounds and therefore refuse to place children with gays or lesbians. Conversely, the gay community is trying to leverage anti-discrimination laws into guarantees that any adoption agency with a government contract will serve gays and lesbians, regardless of religious belief.

H.R. 1681, the "Every Child Deserves a Family Act" now in the House, would require any adoption agency contracted by the government to seek permanent placement for foster children to give equal consideration to gay and lesbian couples or risk losing its government funding. A companion bill is being prepared for the Senate and will likely be presented later this year.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., introduced the House bill in May. It's unclear whether the legislation will pass or even make it out of the House Committee on Ways and Means, but what's certain is that Stark's resolution is attracting a growing groundswell of support. Consider: Stark introduced essentially identical legislation in both 2009 and 2010, but the 2011 edition already has more co-sponsors (60) than the last two combined. Just as tellingly, one of those co-sponsors is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. — marking the first time a Republican has signed on to help sponsor of Stark's gay adoption bills.

"The majority of states are silent on the issues of sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity of adoptive or foster parents," Stark wrote in a May 20 op-ed piece for the Washington Post. "We need a federal remedy … to remove all remaining barriers to finding stable, caring permanent homes for America's foster children."

Not everyone shares Stark's enthusiasm for requiring all government-contracted adoption agencies, regardless of religious belief, to funnel children to gay and lesbian couples. In fact, some experts believe that enacting such a measure would produce potentially catastrophic consequences.

Consider the case of Chuck Johnson, the president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption. As the head of a non-profit advocacy organization that believes every child deserves a permanent home, Johnson is acutely sensitive to public opinion and ever mindful of a large confluence of interests. Nevertheless, his stance regarding gay adoption is as neutral as Switzerland: "no official position."

But there comes a point where right is right and core values can bend no further before shattering. For Johnson, that line of demarcation is crossed when the government mandates that faith-based organizations contracted to serve foster children must choose between shutting down and arranging gay adoptions.

"(Gay adoption) is happening nationwide — there are agencies that literally work with gay and lesbian couples," Johnson told the Deseret News. "So the question then becomes, if there is access then why are we going to require an agency to participate in something it opposes when there are already opportunities for families to find help?"

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