Proposed HB318 would enable couples who are merely living together (without the benefit of a legal marriage) to adopt children. The proposed change would enable unmarried heterosexual, polygamous, lesbian or gay couples to adopt children. Lesbian and gay advocates have called for the repeal of Utah's requirement that adoptive couples be legally married. However, studies have shown that children are at higher risk of physical and sexual abuse from unmarried persons who have access to children in the home, primarily as a result of the perceived higher incidence of promiscuity among unmarried couples. Unmarried relationships are more unstable (and are generally of shorter duration) than married relationships. Children of unmarried couples do less well in language, math and sports activities and generally suffer from a greater sense of isolation, shame and social confusion as they mature. The placement of children for adoption with legally married couples, insofar as that is possible, is "best practice." The risks of placement with unmarried couples are not mythical.

Since the enactment of the prohibition of adoptions by unmarried couples, children in foster care have not been denied appropriate adoptive homes. Indeed, contrary to the assertions made by activists, prior to 2000, the Division of Child and Family Services had not ever knowingly placed children for adoption with unmarried couples. When the restriction was adopted, former DCFS board Member James Anderson, who has a master's degree in social work, noted: "I have observed the steady and pervasive erosion of marriage and the family through the course of my career and have come to believe that children have a right to expect that society will protect, preserve and strengthen these traditional institutions for their sake. As public officials and direct care and service providers, I believe that we have a solemn duty to see that children under our charge receive the absolute best care, rearing and service that can be provided in a "best practice" fashion and not be sidetracked or distracted by a secondary and self-serving adult interest."

Not every person who wants to adopt a child is eligible. Those with terminal illnesses or those who have a record of criminal activity or who have sexually or physically abused children are generally ineligible. Homeless people or those without the means to provide food and clothing to their families are usually unqualified to adopt. Utah has determined that with respect to adoptions by couples (whether heterosexual, homosexual or polygamous), legal marriage is a prerequisite. This determination was made by the Legislature after extensive public debate. It was based upon sound statistical studies demonstrating that children are safer and more secure if the adoptive parents are legally married. This restriction is also an expression of the standards of right and wrong generally accepted in the community.

The goals of adoption policy should be safety and permanency, not political correctness. The cry of "discrimination" is a political slander intended to distract from the real concerns that exist when children are placed for adoption in disregard of "best practice." By aggressively recruiting and training foster parents, Utah has not been forced to place children in less than appropriate homes.

Scott H. Clark is a Salt Lake City attorney.