Photo: Family Equality Council, via Facebook.
A newly introduced congressional bill would prohibit discrimination against prospective parents, including same-sex couples, in adoption and foster care.
The “Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” introduced by U.S. Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico), seeks to make it easier for children in the child welfare system to find permanent placements, also known as “forever families.”
The bill would prevent child welfare agencies that receive federal funds from turning away prospective parents based on their sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
Already, 10 states have passed legislation allowing child placement agencies to discriminate by citing their sincerely held religious beliefs, and President Trump reportedly wants to carve out a similar religious exemption at the federal level.
Currently, there are approximately 443,000 children enrolled in the U.S. foster care system, over 123,000 of whom await a permanent placement.
Additionally, an estimated 30% of foster youth identify as LGBTQ, and are more likely to experience mistreatment, discrimination, or violence while in the system.
By prohibiting discrimination against prospective parents, the bill would increase the overall number and diversity of homes able to take on foster children, and would also open up a wider pool of prospective parents who might be more affirming or accepting of any LGBTQ-identifying foster children who might be placed in their care.
One of the bill’s provisions would also protect LGBTQ youth in foster care from being subjected to conversion therapy or other attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A similar Senate bill is being sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
“Too many children dream of a stable, loving family,” Lewis said in a statement. “Many adults want to open their homes and their hearts, but they also are facing more and more barriers, because some officials can say they practice the wrong religion, love the wrong person, or are not married. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act puts the happiness and well-being of our children front and center, engaging every possible match between solid families and children searching for a home.”
“Unfortunately, the foster care system faces an overpopulation and many of these children reach 18 years of age and never get assigned to a home and end up in the streets without a safe roof,” González-Colón said in a statement. “We are failing a full generation in the early stages of their lives, since we are unable to provide them with the necessary tools that will set the base for their future actions or decisions by denying them the love of a family by mere prejudices and lack of understanding of that love that has no barriers imposed by society.”
LGBTQ organizations and child welfare advocates both praised the bill’s introduction.
“Two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of Republicans and Evangelicals, oppose anti-LGBTQ discrimination in taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption services,” Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer at Family Equality Council, said in a statement. “We now call on Congress to ensure that the will of the American people is reflected in federal law, by passing the Every Child Deserves a Family Act and eliminating discrimination in our nation’s child welfare systems.”
“With nearly half a million children in foster care across the country, we need every family that is willing and able to open their heart and home to a child,” Ian Thompson, a senior legislative representative with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Turning away prospective foster and adoptive parents because they are LGBTQ or any other reason unrelated to their ability to care for a child makes it harder for these children to find a family to love and support them. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act is an important step in ensuring that the needs of children come first.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of several groups currently suing the Trump administration over a waiver it granted to Miracle Hill Ministries of South Carolina allowing the agency to discriminate against prospective parents, hailed the bill as a necessary measure.
A lesbian couple in South Carolina has filed a similar lawsuit, alleging that the waiver is unconstitutional.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. – Photo: Emily Clack, courtesy of LBJ Library, via Wikimedia.
The waiver, granted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, allows Miracle Hill to continue receiving taxpayer dollars even as it refuses to place children with married, heterosexual Christians of non-LGBTQ-affirming faiths.
Americans United noted in its statement praising the Every Child Deserves a Family Act that the waiver not only allows discrimination against LGBTQ parents and same-sex couples, but against people of different faith traditions — such as Aimee Maddonna, Americans United’s client, who was rejected by Miracle Hill because she is Catholic.
“With the onslaught of religious refusal policies coming out of this administration, it is more important than ever that we enact legislative safeguards,” Rachel Laser, the president and CEO of Americans United, said in a statement. “This bill is critical not only because it protects those who are being discriminated against in the name of religious freedom, but because it protects our nation’s most vulnerable children from being denied a home.”
The Every Child Deserves a Family Act has also attracted support from the child advocacy organization Children’s Rights.
“The bottom line is that our country’s most vulnerable children need access to as many safe and loving homes as possible,” Sandy Santana, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “The Every Child Deserves a Family Act will provide exactly that, and prevent agencies from discriminating against qualified families simply because they do not pass a religious litmus test. Our children deserve nothing less.”
The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people, praised the bill as a way to prevent depression or suicidal ideation among LGBTQ foster youth, who studies have shown suffer worse outcomes than their cisgender peers, including longer stays in residential group homes, higher rates of multiple placements, homelessness, hospitalization for emotional or mental health reasons, and elevated rates of suicide attempts.
“Given the undeniable crisis in our foster care system today, where too many children age out without finding their forever home and LGBTQ youth are subject to harm from discrimination, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act is vital to the well-being of America’s most vulnerable youth,” Casey Pick, a senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “We are especially grateful that this legislation would protect LGBTQ youth in foster care from being subjected to attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through the pseudo-scientific practice of conversion therapy.”