Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives today reintroduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, aimed at prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people who seek to adopt or foster a child, and, in a new provision, preventing LGBTQ young people in the child welfare system from being subjected to conversion therapy.
The bill was introduced by Reps. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, a Republican from Puerto Rico. Similar legislation has been up for congressional consideration since 2009, when Rep. Pete Stark of California introduced it; Lewis has been the chief House sponsor of the bill since 2013.
"Too many children dream of a stable, loving family," Lewis said in a press release. "Many adults want to open their homes and their hearts, but they also are facing more and more barriers, because some officials can say they practice the wrong religion, love the wrong person, or are not married. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act puts the happiness and well-being of our children front and center, engaging every possible match between solid families and children searching for a home. We must each do our part to ensure that every young person and capable, aspiring parents are able to enjoy the dream of a loving, stable family together."
Many states contract with private nonprofit organizations to place children for adoption and foster care. Most of these groups serve all prospective parents without discrimination, the legislation notes, but some faith-based ones will place children only with members of a certain religion and will refuse LGBTQ individuals, single people in general, same-sex couples, or interfaith couples. The bill seeks to "prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and marital status in the administration and provision of child welfare services."
The legislation, unlike previous versions, also calls conversion therapy, designed to turn LGBTQ people straight or cisgender, a form of discrimination. It notes that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system and that many who have been homeless felt safer on the streets than in the system, so it is necessary to protect them from conversion therapy, which is deemed ineffective and harmful by major medical and mental health organizations.
LGBTQ rights groups praised the bill's reintroduction. "There is a foster care and adoption crisis in this country today, with over 442,000 children in care, and over 123,000 waiting to be adopted," said a statement issued by Stan Sloan, CEO of the Family Equality Council. "This crisis is compounded by discrimination, especially in 10 states which permit agencies to turn away qualified foster and adoptive parents. Passing the Every Child Deserves a Family Act will end this discrimination, and help ensure more children find the loving, forever homes they deserve." The Family Equality Council estimates that one-fifth of children in the foster care system are LGBTQ.
"Given the undeniable crisis in our foster care system today, where too many children age out without finding their forever home and LGBTQ youth are subject to harm from discrimination, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act is vital to the well-being of America's most vulnerable youth," added Casey Pick, senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. "We are especially grateful that this legislation would protect LGBTQ youth in foster care from being subjected to attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through the pseudo-scientific practice of conversion therapy."
Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York plans to introduce a companion bill soon in the Senate, where it may face more opposition than in the Democratic-controlled House; the Senate has a Republican majority.