For advocates of gay adoption, progress but also obstacles

June 17, 2017

With tens of thousands of children lingering in foster care across the United States, waiting for adoption, Illinois schoolteachers Kevin Neubert and Jim Gorey did their bit. What began with their offer to briefly care for a newborn foster child evolved within a few years into the adoption of that little boy and all four of his older siblings who also were in foster care.

The story of their two-dad, five-kid family exemplifies the potential for same-sex couples to help ease the perennial shortfall of adoptive homes for foster children. Yet, even as more gays and lesbians are adopting, there are efforts by state and federal politicians to protect faith-based adoption agencies that object to placing children in such families.

Sweeping new measures in Texas and South Dakota allow state-funded agencies to refuse to place children with unmarried or gay prospective parents because of religious objections. A bill passed last month in Alabama applies to agencies using private funds. A newly introduced bill in Congress would extend such provisions nationwide.

For those who support gay adoption, the entire phenomenon is very much a good news/bad news story. Gays and lesbians have ever-expanding opportunities to adopt, and a strong likelihood of finding community support if they do so. Yet bias against prospective gay adoptive parents remains pervasive, whether it’s overt or subtle, and experts in the field believe that many thousands of gays and lesbians are dissuaded from adopting for fear of encountering such bias.

“Some of these agencies are quite clear that they don’t work with certain sorts of people,” said Currey Cook, who handles adoption and foster care issues for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal.

Some would-be gay adopters seek out other agencies, Cook said. “But some people think, ‘I’m not going to risk being stigmatized and turned away, so I’m not going to step up at all.’”

There’s no official, up-to-date count of gay and lesbian adoptive parents, but the number is on the rise.

Same-sex couples are nearly three times as likely to adopt as heterosexual couples, says Gary Gates, a specialist in LGBT demography. His latest analysis of Census Bureau data indicates that in 2015, the year that same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, there were 44,000 adopted children being raised by 28,000 same-sex couples. That number of children was double his estimate from 2013.