On Monday, Oct. 31, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act – a bill previously introduced in the House by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) – in the Senate to end discrimination in adoption and foster care based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. On Tuesday, Nov. 1, President Barack Obama launched National Adoption Month with a proclamation declaring, "Adoptive families come in all forms."
As detailed in a release sent out on Oct. 28 by Gillibrand's office, the bill "would prohibit an entity that receives federal assistance and is involved in adoption or foster care placements from discriminating against prospective adoptive or foster parents solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status."
In the release, Stark says, "It is time to put the best interests of children first and remove all discriminatory barriers in our child welfare system." The bill, which Stark introduced in May, has 76 co-sponsors.
Obama stated in his proclamation, ''This month and throughout the year, let us recommit to ensuring every child is given the sustaining love of family, the assurance of a permanent home, and the supportive upbringing they deserve."
The proclamation was applauded by the Family Equality Council, which announced in a statement, "This proclamation, issued in recognition of National Adoption Month, represents a shared belief that adoption decisions should be based on the best interests of children and that all qualified caregivers should be allowed to serve as adoptive parents. The reality of today's America is that LGBT families are part of the fabric of this country."
After declaring that adoptive families "come in all forms," however, Obama's proclamation provides less inclusive parameters than would be provided for in the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. He writes, "With so many children waiting for loving homes, it is important to ensure that all qualified caregivers are given the opportunity to serve as adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or marital status."
That less inclusive message brought criticism to Obama from the Human Rights Campaign, which earlier this year endorsed the president's re-election bid.
Noting the organization's support for the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said, "We applaud the President's long support of adoption by LGBT people. It's our belief that statements of nondiscrimination principles should be LGBT-inclusive and we are disappointed that gender identity was not included in this proclamation."
White House spokesman Shin Inouye on Nov. 1 repeated an earlier statement, telling Metro Weekly, "The President has long believed that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals based on their interest in offer a loving home, not based on discriminatory and irrelevant factors. He recognizes that adoptive families come in many forms, and that we must do all we can to break down barriers to ensure that all qualified caregivers have the ability to serve as adoptive families. While we have not reviewed this specific legislation, we share its goals and hope that the dialogue moves forward on this issue."
When Metro Weekly pointed out that, again, the language issued by the White House on the issue of adoption was non-specific and the specific language in the proclamation did not include gender identity, the White House did not initially respond. On Nov. 2, however, Inouye was more specific: "As has long been his position, the President supports the adoption rights of LGBT families."
Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said, "I know the president supports the rights of transgender people to adopt. I know that the president believes that children in need of adoption and foster care deserve the kind of homes that transgender parents can provide."
She added, however, "Gender identity should have been included in the proclamation, but I am convinced, through meetings and all the work we've done, that they are on our side. That is more important to me than the wording of a proclamation -- but it should have been in the proclamation."
Jeff Krehely, the director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, examined the steps involved in reaching the presidential proclamation, writing to Metro Weekly, "I think the first thing to note is that the 2009 and 2010 proclamations didn't address discrimination based on sexual orientation, so this is a step in the right direction, and I'm glad they included sexual orientation. In terms of not including gender identity, most state adoption policies and related court cases (both good and bad) focus on the sexual orientation of the potential parents, and don't address gender identity. Similarly, most stories and research on discrimination in adoption also focus on same-sex couples or even just single gay people.''
He added: "Researchers and advocates (myself included) need to do a better job of figuring out how and when and why people who are transgender face discrimination in the adoption process. I'm sure that they do face this type of discrimination, but it's not usually part of the story we tell about parenting discrimination."