Same-sex couples foster and adopt children at astonishingly high rates, much higher than any other demographic in the US. Yet religious adoption agencies are fighting hard to exclude LGBTQ people from the pool of available parents. Yesterday, in the name of religious freedom, the Trump administration proposed a new rule that will reduce the number of families available to care for children in need.
National Adoption Month kicked off yesterday and fired up my memory
My gay partner and I raised a boy the “system” had chewed up and spit out. He’d been severely abused and neglected as an infant and toddler; by the time he found us, he was a mess. His doctors warned that he might never recover from his early trauma, that he would probably always be emotionally stunted, volatile, and unable to form healthy relationships.
Together, the three of us proved the doctors wrong. Our son became the focus of our lives, and with liberal amounts of love, hard work, and stubborn optimism, he DID recover. He grew into a loving, beloved, emotionally healthy man.
I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. My partner and I aren’t even unusual. According the the Williams Institute, same-sex couples foster and adopt children at far higher rates than the general public, and we often take in kids that nobody else wants.
114,000 same-sex couples in the United States are raising children through fostering or adopting.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed a new rule yesterday to allow federally funded child-services agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people and against others on the basis of religious faith. When the rule goes into effect, hundreds of thousands of children will lose the opportunity to find their “forever family.”
The concept of protecting kids first is flying out the window
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, member of the House Ways & Means Committee, sums up the situation eloquently: “It’s as if it is not the children, but the social welfare agencies themselves, who require protection.”
Julie Kruse of Family Equality puts it this way: “It is outrageous that the Trump administration would mark the start of National Adoption Month by announcing a rule to further limit the pool of loving homes available to America’s 440,000 foster children.”
The Trump position runs contrary to American values
Most Americans oppose this kind of religious bigotry, according to Kruse, who says, “The American public overwhelmingly opposes allowing taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to turn away qualified parents simply because they are in a same-sex relationship.”
We knew that the number of children needing care had become a crisis in our state, and that older children were being warehoused in modern-day orphanages.
Children should come first
Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer at Family Equality explains that, “Changing federal nondiscrimination rules … runs counter to the cardinal rule of child welfare: that the best interests of children in care must come first.”
The rule change will allow all HHS grant recipients to discriminate
Federally funded agencies working in public health areas like HIV and STI programs, opioid addiction programs, and health research will be able to turn LGBTQ people away. Programs that address youth homelessness, human trafficking, and pre-K education will also be allowed to discriminate and still receive federal money.
LGBTQ parents raise lots of children
According to the Williams Institute, 114,000 same-sex couples in the United States are raising children through fostering or adopting.
While 68% percent of same-sex couples who are raising children have biological children, an astonishing 32% raise either adopted or foster kids. By contrast, only 3% of different-sex couples adopt children. Nearly ten times as many same-sex couples raise foster children compared to different-sex couples.
Disqualifying LGBTQ parents on religious grounds dramatically impacts the available pool of parents for children in need, according to lead Williams Institute scholar Shoshana Goldberg.
Religious exceptions hurt homeless kids
In many states like South Carolina, faith-based agencies provide the bulk of all child placement. The federally funded Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville is that state’s largest foster and adoption agency. They will not place kids with LGBTQ people or with anyone who isn’t a “Protestant Christian.” The Trump administration already granted them a waiver to HHS rules.
Real life stories of harm to children
The story of Miracle Hill is a frightening cautionary tale. South Carolina children languish in institutions and temporary care because the state’s largest child-services agency won’t place them. And it’s not just about LGBTQ. Catholics and Jews need not apply either.
Jewish foster mother turned away
Lydia Currie inquired at the Department of Social Services in Greenville County looking to become a foster parent. She wrote last February for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that, “We knew that the number of children needing care had become a crisis in our state, and that older children were being warehoused in modern-day orphanages.”
She added that, “Boys with a history in the system are hard to place in families because of the assumption that they might be violent… We decided that we wanted to give one of them a home.”
The state referred Currie to Miracle Hill, but when she read the online application, she learned she was barred because her family is Jewish.
She was shocked
She learned countless children in the US are excluded from good families based on religious requirements. “For them, the time lost to an institution instead of spent with a loving family could alter the course of their lives,” she wrote.
It took Currie two years before she could foster a 9-year-old boy who was in the care of another private agency. None of the children supervised by Miracle Hill, using millions of taxpayer dollars, was eligible for Currie’s love and care.
Catholic foster mother turned away
Miracle Hill Ministries also turned away Aimee Maddonna, a South Carolina mother of three who wanted to open her home to needy children. Staff cut her initial screening short after she told them the name of her church. They told Maddonna she sounded “perfect,” but explained they only accept Protestant Christians.
The Trump Administration is spinning the story
HHS officials are framing the narrative of this new rule as a move to allow more religiously based agencies to care for needy kids. But according to the Pew Charitable Trust, the foster care crisis in the United States is fueled by a lack of suitable foster and adoptive parents, not by a lack of private agencies.
In states where state law forbids agencies from discriminating on the basis of religion, religious agency closures have NOT reduced fostering and adoption rates. Instead, one of two things has happened instead.
Religious agencies obey the law
For example, a major faith-based foster care and adoption contractor for the state of Michigan recently agreed to place children in LGBTQ homes. Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian Services is responsible for about 8 percent of Michigan’s foster and adoption cases involving children from troubled households.
In a policy shift reported by WGVU-FM, a Bethany spokesperson explained. “We are disappointed with how this settlement agreement has been implemented by the state government. Nonetheless, Bethany will continue operations in Michigan, in compliance with our legal contract requirements.”
Secular agencies take up the slack
Some states like Massachusetts have enforced laws that require contracted agencies to treat LGBTQ people equally. In those states, no shortage of agencies has occurred. Some religious agencies have withdrawn from providing services, but secular ones have stepped up to take their place.
As the ACLU notes, the shortage of foster and adoptive homes does not stem from a shortage of agencies, but from a shortage of families willing to take care of children.
LGBTQ parents stand ready to do our part
Just as my partner and I took in a child in need, LGBTQ parents across the US are fostering and adopting children who desperately need homes. But kowtowing to right-wing Christians who stigmatize members of gender and sexual minorities, the Trump administration is hurting kids — making it much more likely that they’ll pass their childhoods in institutions or temporary care.
Spending tax money for religious bigotry is wrong
When we Americans pay our taxes, we expect our government to spend it neutrally, neither favoring nor disadvantaging religion. If religious agencies can’t spend tax dollars neutrally, they need to step back and make room for agencies that will.
Children deserve care, and when our federal government helps provide that care, then they must not use religion to decrease the chances that a child will find a home.
Children and their needs must come first. Excluding LGBTQ people from helping children in need is plainly wrong. People of good will must stand up and tell Trump to stop hurting kids.
Want to hear more about my foster son?
James Finn is a long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Act Up NYC, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to email@example.com.