Efforts to ban gays and lesbians from adopting children are emerging across the United States in a second front in the culture wars that began during the 2004 elections over same-sex marriage.
Moves to pass laws or secure November ballot initiatives are under way in at least 16 states, say adoption, gay rights and conservative groups. Some, like Ohio, Georgia and Kentucky, approved constitutional amendments in 2004 banning gay marriage.
“Now that we’ve defined what marriage is, we need to take that further and say children deserve to be in that relationship,” says Greg Quinlan of Ohio’s Pro-Family Network, a conservative Christian group.
Florida has banned all gays and lesbians from adopting since 1977, although they can be foster parents. Court challenges and a campaign by entertainer Rosie O’Donnell to overturn the law have failed. Mississippi bans adoption by gay couples, but gay singles can adopt. Utah bans all unmarried couples, regardless of sexual orientation, from adoption.
States have had “little fiddlings here and there,” says Kent Markus of the National Center for Adoption Law and Policy in Ohio but “there is more activity” than he’s seen in 15 years.
Religious groups and courts also are grappling with the issue. Roman Catholic bishops in Massachusetts are seeking an exemption from state anti-discrimination laws to allow the church to bar gays from adopting through its social service agencies. Meanwhile, a judge in Missouri last week ruled that the state could not deny a foster care license to a lesbian.
Republicans battered by questions over ethics and Iraq “might well” use the adoption issue to deflect attention and draw out conservatives in close Senate and governor races in states such as Missouri and Ohio, says University of Southern California political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.
But GOP pollster Whit Ayres says adoption “doesn’t have the emotional power of the gay marriage issue because there is no such thing as the phrase ‘the sanctity of adoption.’ “