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ADOPTION: Adoption under attack

National | A young girl's tragedy becomes a PR bonanza for those urging the rights of homosexuals to adopt

Issue: "1st-grade murder," March 11, 2000

Indiana's homosexuals achieved a public-relations victory last month when Butch Kimmerling received a 40-year prison sentence for sexually abusing a girl he had adopted. Horrible news was good news politically for the gay lobby because Mr. and Mrs. Kimmerling had adopted the 8-year-old to keep her from being placed in the home of an openly homosexual man alongside her already-adopted handicapped brothers, ages 4, 5, and 6. Mr. Kimmerling had publicly campaigned against gay adoption, and when he confessed to sexual abuse he was labeled a greater immediate threat to children than any homosexual. That was the latest strange twist in a battle being waged across the country over homosexual adoption, one of the major fronts in the war over gay rights:

  • In Florida, the nation's only state law that bans homosexual adoption is being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union and a children's-rights group. New Hampshire had a similar ban, but last May the state legislature repealed it. Legislators in Texas, Indiana, and other states have proposed bans, not none has passed.
  • Other states, such as Utah and Arkansas, have state agency regulations that either require marriage for adoptive parents or give priority to married heterosexual couples. Those are also receiving attack and support. Two lawsuits challenging Utah's marriage requirement were filed in December, and in January two Utah legislators unveiled proposed bills, one to formalize the marriage requirement and the other banning gay adoptions through either state or private agencies.
  • Meanwhile, the administration of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in California is adopting pro-gay policies. Last November the California Department of Social Services reversed a 12-year-old policy that required state social workers to oppose in court the placement of children with unmarried couples. The decision opened the door to many more "second parent" adoptions, in which a homosexual applicant adopts the child of a partner. Sympathetic judges in the Bay area have been permitting such adoptions for several years, and they are also common in over a dozen other states. No one knows how often children are placed for adoption with homosexual individuals or couples. Applicants are usually advised, either by social workers or agency representatives themselves, to hide their sexual orientation, so any agency that places children with single individuals may be subjecting them to this particular risk. The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC), a federal agency, reports that at any given time about 110,000 children in the United States are waiting to be adopted; thousands are available from countries overseas. Healthy newborns, particularly if they are white, are quickly placed, typically through private agencies that charge from $4,000 to over $30,000. State-run agencies specialize in older children or those with handicaps; they may wait months or even years for a permanent home. At many private agencies, the birth mother will select adoptive parents. The San Antonio-based Adoption Services of America takes applications from homosexuals, but director Lore Carvalho said, "I've never had a birth mother choose a gay couple." Sometimes a mother will leave the choice up to the agency. She says that, despite increasing acceptance of homosexuality, most agencies "are not real open" to the idea of gay adoption. As the recent Indiana saga goes, placement with married couples may also entail risks, but the story became big because abuse in those situations is rare. Concerning adoption by homosexuals, however, Lynn Wardle-in the National Council for Adoption's Adoption Factbook III (1999)-noted the risks of sexual identity confusion, exposure to multiple sex partners and many types of irresponsible sexual behavior, early drug and alcohol use, HIV infection, and suicidal behavior. The uncertain legal landscape makes some private adoption agencies uneasy. In Pennsylvania, state regulations do not address the sexual orientation or marital status of would-be adoptive parents, but an executive order from Republican Gov. Tom Ridge prohibits state agencies from discriminating against state employees on the basis of sexual preference. That order does not apply to private adoption agencies. Although there seems to be no compelling legal reason to do gay adoptions in that state, two of the three private agencies in Pennsylvania that WORLD surveyed took the position that to refuse openly to perform homosexual adoptions would expose them to the risk of a lawsuit or the loss of state funding or licensing. Susan Aspey of the Pennsylvania Child and Family Welfare department told WORLD it is "bizarre" that an agency would say that. Many Christian agencies in Pennsylvania and other states will not place children with homosexuals. (WORLD has accepted advertisements from adoption agencies that state they do not discriminate based on marital status or other considerations. WORLD publisher John Prentis said that the magazine accepted ads from an agency that does some homosexual placements, "based upon my belief that it was better for these children to be adopted by people who read WORLD" than to end up in other situations. The ads help Christian prospective parents find children, he says, and help more children be placed in Christian families.) Overall, the situation is fluid. If homosexuals continue to gain societal acceptance, adoption agencies and social workers may move them up the ladder of preference. The National Association of Social Workers "is committed to work toward the building of a society in which all people will be accepted as equals without regard to their sexual orientation," according to its Code of Ethics on Gay and Lesbian Issues. A spokesman for Adoption Network, a California agency, says "we absolutely do not" discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The Child Welfare League opposes assessing potential adoptive parents based on "differing lifestyle or sexual preference." The American Psychological Society opposes any emphasis on the "gender identity or sexual orientation" of prospective adoptive parents. And, as if such a juggernaut were not enough, opponents of gay adoption in Indiana have to deal with a real nightmare for an 8-year-old girl, and a public-relations one for a struggling movement.

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Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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