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|October 2-8, 2008
What’s a family?
Report urges agencies to consider gay applicants for adoptive parents
by Ofelia Casillas and Bonnie Miller Rubin
At the Neubecker residence in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, David and Lee are Dad and Daddy, respectively, to a pair of foster siblings who sleep in pink princess and blue truck bedrooms, ride their bikes with helmets and always eat breakfast and dinner together.
David Neubecker, 39, and Lee Neubecker, 36, married in 2004 in San Francisco with dreams of having a family. They heard about the Hephzibah Children’s Association in Oak Park, where the couple became foster fathers last year to a 4-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl, with plans to adopt them.
“We both felt that biological ties were not the keystone to what makes a family. It was, first and foremost, love,” David Neubecker said. “It’s been an incredible journey so far.”
While Clay Aiken may be on the cover of People cradling his infant (through surrogacy) and Rosie O’Donnell has long shared stories of her brood with mainstream America, the highly charged issue of gay parenthood continues to rally conservatives, who say such homes are not in the best interest of a child.
But findings by a nonpartisan adoption group released Thursday, Sept. 25, conclude that gays and lesbians are an important resource for waiting children. There is near “universal professional consensus” that these applicants should be judged on their qualifications, not sexual orientation.
“The pool of potential adoptive parents must be expanded to keep pace with the growing number of kids in foster care who are legally free for adoption,” stated the report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which is based in New York.
Currently, about 129,000 U.S. children are in foster care, many of whom are older, have special needs and face grim prospects for finding a loving, permanent home.
Besides the emotional hardships, a national ban could add $87 to $130 million to foster care system expenditures each year, the report said, citing previous research. Not only would children who are removed from gay and lesbian homes be placed in group or institutional care, which is more costly, the state would incur the costs of recruiting and training new foster parents, researchers found.
In Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services takes no position on the sexual orientation of those who foster or adopt children in state custody. “Illinois law and DCFS policy do not inhibit or prohibit adoption by non-heterosexual individuals or couples,” spokesman Kendall Marlowe said. “Illinois law also does not prohibit co-parent adoptions and this state gives full faith and credit to adoptions legally completed in other states. We welcome all families who are qualified to care for our children.”
Still, the issue has been hotly debated elsewhere in recent years. Florida has an outright ban on gay adoptions. In Utah, only heterosexual married couples are eligible.
Beyond the statehouse to houses of worship, the Vatican called the practice “gravely immoral” in 2003, and Catholic Charities in Boston was told to cease such placements by church officials. The agency opted to get out of adoptions — a century-old practice — rather than comply. (Catholic Charities in Chicago has remained mum on the subject.)
But other denominations have been quietly building such families.
“On a global level, a lot of people are fearful,” said Ruth Jajko of Lutheran Social Services. “But when you look at the individual family and see a child who is really doing well, it’s hard to argue with.”
David Neubecker said his kids are open with others about having two fathers, introduced through a book about two male penguins who built a nest because they wanted a baby.
“I can’t imagine our lives without these two children,” he said. “It’s also been a huge adjustment and a huge challenge. These children were failed by so many people...”
The report also recommended that agencies assess their policies, removing any negative messages.
Sarah Schmidt said she felt nothing but a welcoming atmosphere when she and her partner, Julie Matthei, adopted from The Cradle in Evanston, Ill..
Now parents to 3-year-old William and 15-month-old Callie as well as guardian to 15-year-old niece Shana, Schmidt still gets emotional when she thinks about the trust demonstrated by both the agency and the birth parents, who chose the women to raise their babies.
“Not a single one of our fears were confirmed. We travel all over the country and get questions, but not any disapproval,” she said.
Still, when she hears about other state’s efforts to impose restrictions, it has an impact, Schmidt said.
“When we travel, we carry all their documents,” she said. “I don’t want to be in an airport somewhere and have someone question whether I’m their real parent.”
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