As 2012 nears, the roster of offensive and defense bouts for equality has never appeared more crowded, with state ballot measures, federal lawsuits and a basket of legislative priorities all pending. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York represents a state that achieved one of the highest profile victories to date, and now she wants to expand what she calls the “consistent drumbeat of advocacy and persuasive narrative” to a new frontier with a bill to remove adoption barriers for LGBT families.
The Every Child Deserves A Family Act would prohibit federal funding for entities that discriminate against prospective adoptive or foster parents on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. In this way, the legislation uses the power of the government’s $8 billion child welfare purse to target discriminatory laws against LGBT couples and individuals in more than 30 states, and help children find homes. An estimated 400,000 children are in the U.S. foster care system, with over 100,000 waiting to be adopted.
“Every time a vote is called, every time there is an opportunity for a lawsuit to be heard, it moves our agenda forward,” Gillibrand said Tuesday in her first interview on the bill’s introduction. “Every battle we fight also creates more converts and more advocates who will support our cause.”
Rep. Pete Stark of California re-introduced the bill in the House in May, and it currently has more than 75 cosponsors, including Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the first Republican to support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Gillibrand’s move was anticipated for more than seven months, during which time she tried to secure original Republican co-sponsors before introducing the bill in time for National Adoption Month in November.
Her bill has five original co-sponsors, all Democrats, but she expressed optimism about obtaining bipartisan support. She said a “good handful” of Republicans have shown interest in the bill, which offers lawmakers a “unique” way to approach equality through the issue of child welfare.
“I think we can develop support in places where someone may not support full marriage equality or may not support other rights,” she said. “They may care at least about our youth and making sure that healthy families are available to take care of them.”
Like DOMA repeal, the bill faces challenging odds in the current Congress, but opponents already have issued alarms calling the measure an attack on religious liberty that would reduce the number of children who get adopted or placed into foster care. They point to locations including Washington, D.C. and Illinois, where Catholic Charities stopped providing services rather than recognize prospective LGBT parents in compliance with new marriage equality and civil unions laws.
Gillibrand addressed the criticism by making a distinction between public and private adoptions. Proponents of her bill say that Catholic Charities, one of the country’s largest social service providers, is involved with less than 5% of public adoptions, which means the legislation would have a minimal impact on the agency.
“This law only deals with public adoptions,” she said. “The law has no impact on private adoptions and Catholic Charities and other religiously affiliated organizations are free to continue to operate as they have in private adoptions. In states that already have nondiscrimination laws regarding adoption and foster care placements, religious organizations such as Catholic Charities are already required to comply with those laws, so our bill would not change that.”