Originally published on Advocate.com August 07 2003 12:00 AM ET
Amid renewed debate over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, the nation's largest lawyers' group is considering endorsement of the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. The American Bar Association is expected to vote on the issue at its meeting, which begins Thursday in San Francisco. Approval would put the 408,000-lawyer group on record in support of laws that allow two unmarried people of any sex to adopt as a couple. If the ABA's governing body should approve the proposal, the organization could lobby statehouses to redraft adoption laws.
The ABA proposal comes on the heels of a California supreme court decision upholding that state's practice of granting second-parent adoptions to gay and lesbian couples. Many states allow only one unmarried adult to adopt a child, even if the child will live with two adults who act as parents. The ABA position would apply to gay couples as well as to heterosexual couples who want to adopt but not get married. "This really is a tremendous benefit to the kid," said Paul Cates, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "Say something happens to the adopting parent--they die, or something horrible happens. Then the kid is left in this state of limbo" unless the second adult raising the child also is legally a parent.
Peter LaBarbera, senior policy analyst at the Culture and Family Institute, which is affiliated with the conservative lobbying organization Concerned Women for America, said the ABA proposal puts a politically correct gay rights agenda ahead of the best interests of children. "I think most people, pretty much from left to right, agree children do best in married households and certainly do better when they have a mother and a father," he said. "It doesn't make sense to encourage the formation of fatherless or motherless households."
The ABA policy would endorse laws that allow unmarried people to begin the adoption process jointly or that allow a second, unmarried parent to become a legal parent after the initial adoption is final. The ABA already is on record supporting the general right of gay people to adopt. Eight states and the District of Columbia already have laws or statewide court decisions in line with the ABA proposal as it applies to gays, according to statistics compiled by the gay rights organization Human Rights
Campaign. Those states--California, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont--guarantee that a second gay parent can petition to join an initial adoptive parent. Even without such laws, gay couples have adopted children in an additional 19 states, according to HRC. Permission for such adoptions often varies within a state, with some judges more likely than others to grant the request. Florida expressly bans adoption by any gay person; Mississippi bans adoption by gay couples; and Utah forbids adoption by any unmarried couple, including gay couples.