Growing up in a conservative, Catholic family in the Detroit area during the 60s, there were certain things that I assumed would happen in my life: I'd get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, and, eventually, have grandkids. We'd all enjoy the family gatherings that my siblings and I experienced as we grew up, and life would be more or less what I planned. But for anyone who has gone through the "growing up" process, they know that life is often not what we plan. I did get the job, buy a house, get married, and have a son. For me and my wife, Jan, he has been the greatest blessing in our lives. And, now that he's grown, he's provided us with the grandchildren that we always dreamed of having.
There is a slight twist to my story, though. My son, Lee, is gay. He and his partner of 10 years, David, adopted their two children -- siblings -- through the foster care system. The adoption process for them, as it is for many families seeking to adopt, was challenging, but it worked, and now we enjoy the family that I always envisioned. The day the adoption was finalized we went to the courthouse along with family members and friends to stand in solidarity and witness their adoption into the family. After some paperwork was signed, we went before the judge who remarked, "This is about not only an adoption but validation of the family support system that is currently surrounding these children."
However, for too many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who want to open their homes and lives to the estimated 500,000 children in the U.S. foster care system cannot realize this dream, because of unfair state laws that ban LGBT people -- regardless of how qualified they are to be parents -- from adoption and foster care. This current patchwork of discriminatory state laws does a disservice to children in desperate need by denying them access to permanent, safe and loving homes.
In our situation my son and his partner were lucky. They were in one of the few states with laws that permitted them to foster and later adopt our grandchildren. But three states have explicit bans prohibiting all LGBT people from adopting children, while another seven states do not permit same-sex couples to jointly adopt. Thirty-four additional states are unclear about whether same-sex couples may jointly adopt, resulting in discriminatory practices. These categorical exclusions based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status deprive approximately 72 percent of the children waiting in foster care of the opportunity to access stable permanent homes.
And the stakes are high. Approximately 25,000 youth "age out" of the foster care system each year. Research shows that these youth are at a high risk for poverty, homelessness, incarceration, early parenthood, and substance abuse. This could have been the case with my grandchildren, had they not been adopted by my son and his partner. There is a solution for this truly unfair situation. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDF) is a federal bill that would increase the number of qualified individuals eligible to become adoptive or foster parents by restricting federal funding for states employing discriminatory practices in adoption and foster care placements based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
This child welfare bill that promotes the best interests of the children in the foster care system by increasing their access to the more than two million additional LGBT people who would consider serving as foster or adoptive parents but for existing state laws prohibiting them from doing so. This legislation is based on over 30 years of sound scientific research and common sense. Over a dozen medical, legal, academic and professional organizations have stated their support for the ability of qualified LGBT and unmarried couples to foster and adopt, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American medical Association, and the National Adoption Center. They know that today, approximately one million LGBT parents are already raising about two million children in the U.S., and that these children are living happy lives in homes where they are loved.
When I think about the amazing family that I have today and how it is very much the fulfillment of what I hoped for many years ago, I feel blessed and lucky that my son and his partner live in a state where our grandchildren were able to be adopted and brought into our lives.. Support for this bill through Congress and in our families could bring that same fulfillment to other families. No child should be denied a home, and no grandparent should be denied the joy of grandchildren. Now, there¹s something we can do about it.