When the State Discriminates

Author Carlos A. Ball chronicles the stories of LGBT parents who have fundamentally changed how American law defines and regulates parenthood in this excerpt from The Right to Be Parents: LGBT Families and the Transformation of Parenthood.

BY Carlos A. Ball

September 27 2012 4:00 AM ET

Don Babets and David Jean (back) with GLAD attorney and Executive Director Kevin Cathcart (r) and co-counsel Tony Doniger.

In 1984, Don Babets and David Jean, a gay couple living in Boston, asked a friend to contact the Massachusetts Department of Social Services to inquire whether their sexual orientation rendered them ineligible to serve as foster parents. After officials assured their friend that it did not, the couple attended a six-week foster care training program. They were also visited at home several times by a social worker who interviewed them for hours on end.

For most individuals, approval by the social worker after a home visit would have led to their certification as foster parents. But because Don and David were a gay couple, their application was forwarded to the department’s headquarters in downtown Boston for special review. After several months went by, and after Don called on a weekly basis inquiring about the application’s status, DSS finally issued them foster parent licenses.

Don, who was 36 and worked as an investigator for the Boston Fair Housing Commission, and David, who was 32 and worked as a nursing home administrator, had met nine years earlier on a blind date as Don was finishing an eight-year stint with the army. The two men hoped to adopt children some day, but wanted to start with foster parenting as a way of proving to themselves, and to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that they could be good parents.

In April 1985, DSS placed two brothers in Don and David’s care; the older boy was 3 years old, the younger one 22 months. The boys’ mother, who was going through difficult times but hoped to regain custody of her sons later that year, consented in writing to the state’s placement of her children with the same-sex couple.

For Don and David, the first two weeks with the boys in their home were nothing less than blissful, as the two men happily adjusted their routines in order to care for the energetic toddlers. But one day, as David was giving a friend a ride in his car, he shared with her the news that the state had placed two foster children in their home. To David’s surprise, the friend, who was the wife of a local community activist by the name of Ben Haith, advised him to be careful because some neighbors might not approve of children living with a gay couple.     

Don and David had considered Ben Haith a friend; they had had him over for dinner several times, and David had given his daughter piano lessons. But a few days after David’s conversation with Haith’s wife, the community activist (who was planning on running for city council) contacted editors at the Boston Globe to complain that DSS had placed two young boys with a gay couple in his neighborhood.   

The day after Haith contacted the newspaper, the Globe published a story on the foster care placement that focused mainly on the negative reactions by some of the gay couple’s neighbors. Haith — who later ended his efforts to seek elected office after being criticized for contacting the newspaper in order to bring attention to his political aspirations — told the reporter that he was “completely opposed” to the placement and that he saw “it ultimately as a breakdown of the society and its values and morals.” Other neighbors, after being told of the placement by the Globe’s reporter, were also troubled. One person, described in the article as a “prominent lawyer,” referred to the placement as “crazy,” while another opined that “this situation falls below what is normal and healthy.”

On the morning the story appeared, the DSS Commissioner called Don and David to assure them that the newspaper article would not lead the agency to take the children back. That commitment lasted about five hours. After Governor Michael Dukakis later that day ordered that authorities remove the boys, two government social workers showed up at the gay couple’s doorstep — TV cameras in tow — and removed the crying and startled children from the home. The gay couple later explained in a statement that to see the children “leave us — angry, confused, and in tears — was one of the most difficult moments of our lives.”

The state placed the children with a (heterosexual) foster mother living in a town outside of Boston. A few months later, the local District Attorney announced that he was investigating a social worker’s report that the boys may have been sexually abused by someone else living in that home.

Tags: Politics

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