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U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a veteran Republican politician from New Jersey, has been recorded suggesting that putting children in orphanages would be preferable to letting same-sex couples adopt them.
A recording of the congressman speaking at a May 29 assembly at Colts Neck High School in New Jersey was delivered to the Washington Blade this week. On the tape, student Hannah Valdes is heard telling Smith she has a gay sister who would one day like to adopt a child with her partner, and asking him whether, "based on household studies," which he had mentioned earlier, her sister would be "less of a legitimate parent" than anyone else, the Blade reports.
Smith tells Valdes the question is moot because of the Supreme Court's 2015 marriage equality ruling, and that her sister is "free to adopt." (That is true up to a point, but several states have chipped away at adoption rights with religious objections laws, and Republicans in Congress are trying to do so as well.) She presses Smith to elaborate, and he says, "There are many others who would like to adopt who can acquire a child" and "the waiting periods are extremely long." When she asks how these "others" are qualified, he responds, "Somebody mentioned orphanages before. I mean, orphanages are still a possibility for some kids." Then another student is heard saying, "You'd rather have kids in an orphanage than with -- ?"
Smith made other comments on adoption rights beyond what was recorded, Valdes told the Blade. Before her exchange with the congressman, another student asked Smith if he'd still vote to bar gay parents from adopting in the District of Columbia, as he did in 1999 (Congress has authority over some D.C. matters). He said he still holds the same views.
"Rep. Smith responded by saying that he does not approve of gay adoption because gay households are not healthy environments for children to grow up in," Valdes said. "He then stated that 'numerous household studies' show that children that have heterosexual parents have better lives than children that have homosexual parents." Actually, dozens of studies have shown children do just as well with gay parents as with straight ones.
That led Valdes to ask the question heard on the recording, and the atmosphere in the assembly became tense, with several other students ready to pose questions on the topic to Smith, she told the Blade. An administrator then shut down the assembly and sent students back to their regular classes.
Students were "in shock that someone had come to our school with these opinions," she said. The school has an LGBTQ club and doesn't put up with bigotry, "so it was shocking to have an elected official -- a congressman no less -- stand in front of hundreds of students, openly shaming the LGBT community," she added. "I knew that there were multiple students in the auditorium who were a part of the LGBT community, and that they were simply too scared to say anything to this congressman. In a situation like this, I just simply could not stay silent."
Smith hasn't responded to the Blade's request for comment, nor has Colts Neck principal Brian Donahue. Smith has a poor record on LGBTQ rights, having received zero ratings from the Human Rights Campaign in recent sessions of Congress. He has represented New Jersey's Fourth District in the U.S. House since 1981, but he's being challenged in November's election by Democrat Josh Welle, a businessman and Navy veteran.
"Chris Smith's out-of-touch views might have flown in 1980 when he was elected, but his time has passed," Welle said in a statement to the Blade. "In 2018, in Central Jersey, it is unacceptable to imply a child would be better off in an orphanage than with a loving LGBTQ family. As a veteran, I fought on the front lines alongside men and women who gave their lives to protect and defend the civil liberties that our Constitution ensures for everyone, not just a few. Chris Smith takes us backwards on inclusion and basic human rights for all."
The Democratic National Committee also commented on the matter. "Rep. Smith's grossly offensive statement demonstrates that he has no problem putting his far-right agenda over the well-being of children," DNC LGBTQ media director Lucas Acosta said in an email to The Advocate and other media. "With over 600,000 children in foster care nationwide, including more than 11,000 in New Jersey alone, Smith and Republicans should be focusing on how they can place children with loving parents regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation of the parents."