Defining Family

By Michael, Jennifer | Children's Voice, September/October 2006 | Go to article overview

Defining Family


Michael, Jennifer, Children's Voice


Piecing together how two moms or two dads fit into the picture.

Lisa Johnston has worked in the early childhood field for 20 years, but it wasn't until about three years ago that she realized she also wanted to make children a part of her home. Approaching 40 and involved in a loving relationship with a partner, Johnston decided foster parenting was the best route. Through her work at a day treatment program for infants who had been abused and neglected, she knew far too many children in her Missouri community were in need of loving homes.

She turned to the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS), where she filled out the necessary paperwork and underwent a home study with her partner, with whom she shared an apartment. The couple enrolled in a nine-week course for prospective foster parents and attended seven of nine classes before the whole process came to a grinding halt. DSS denied Johnston's application to become a foster parent because her partner was a woman.

"We were led to believe they understood our situation-that we were a couple," Johnston says. "We chose to be pretty forthcoming about who we were. We didn't think that mattered, because we were so highly qualified, and there is such a need."

Johnston, with the representation of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), took her case to the Jackson County Missouri Circuit Court. Earlier this year, the court overturned the DSS's decision. According to the ACLU, part of the state's reason for denying Johnston's case was based on a state law banning sexual intimacy between same-sex couples, which was rendered unconstitutional two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas. But Missouri Circuit Judge Sandra C. Midkiff, in her 16-page ruling on Johnston's case, said, "No moral conclusions may be drawn from a constitutionally unenforceable statue."

DSS appealed Midkiff's ruling, and the case is now pending in Missouri's Supreme Court.

Johnston's case is not unique. To become parents, many gay and lesbian people have had to plead their cases in court, move to communities that accept their desire to parent, or give up becoming parents altogether.

Fortunately, most gay and lesbian individuals who seek to adopt have been successful, but state laws often are unclear about whether their partners can also adopt the child.

Controversy over gay parenting has simmered for decades. In 1977, Florida became the first state to ban all gay people-singles and couples-from adopting. Since then, other states have tried but failed to enact the same blanket restriction, including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Mississippi permits single gays and lesbians to adopt but explicitly prohibits gay couples from doing so. Utah bans adoption by individuals who are cohabitating, effectively excluding all gay couples.

Few state laws address the issue of foster parenting. Arkansas and Missouri have statewide policies banning gay people from being considered as foster parents, although these laws are being challenged. Gays and lesbians can't adopt in Florida, but they can serve as foster parents.

Gay parenting has become a hot topic inside state capitols, coming on the heels of 11 states successfully banning same-sex marriages through ballot initiatives in 2004. Many social conservatives hope the issue will rally voters in the same way that same-sex marriages have. Several ballot initiatives during the 2004 elections sought to restrict gay parenting, but none passed. As of last spring, many states were looking to bring the issue before voters again this November.

Ohio, for example, approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 banning gay marriage, and this year Ohio lawmakers drafted legislation banning all gays from adopting. The legislation died in committee last spring.

Greg Quinlan, founder of the Christian conservative ProFamily Network in Ohio, told USA Today, "Now that we've defined what marriage is, we need to take that further and say children deserve to be in that relationship.

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