Sometimes the personal truly is political.
Today, I read a letter sent by three Catholic bishops to U.S. lawmakers. The letter endorses a bill that would allow publicly funded child welfare agencies to refuse to place children for foster care and adoption with same-sex couples due to "their religious beliefs or moral convictions." The letter to Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), lead sponsors of the contrarily-named Inclusion Act, says, "our first and most cherished freedom, religious liberty, is to be enjoyed by all Americans, including child welfare providers who serve the needs of our most vulnerable -- children."
Full disclosure: Along with being the Executive Director of DignityUSA, an organization that works on behalf of LGBT Catholics and our families, my female spouse and I are the parents of two incredible daughters who came to us through the Massachusetts foster care system.
Our daughters were both born to straight couples, one pair married, one that produced four beautiful children together over the course of more than 15 years. Both of our children wound up in foster care because their biological parents were simply unable to care for them. One child spent two months in neo-natal intensive care, withdrawing from the drugs used by her birth mother throughout the pregnancy. Due to long-standing addiction, this woman had lost custody of all of her other children, and was living on the streets of a city near Boston.
Our other child lived with both of her parents until her father was imprisoned for a number of violent crimes. Her mother was the custodial parent for another two years, until finally abandoning our daughter. When she joined our family just before turning five-years-old our daughter could speak only about eight words, had just recently learned to drink milk and sleep in a bed, and six years later still receives intensive therapy to help heal from the unspeakable traumas she experienced.
Adopting these two strong, resilient, loving, generous, talented girls is probably the best thing my spouse and I have ever done. We knew that children who have been in the foster care system would bring scars with them, and that those scars would cover deep wounds. But nothing in the months of training, interviews with social workers that at times felt more probing than doctor's visits, or the reams of paperwork we completed before being certified as foster parents fully prepared us for what lay ahead. We have spent countless hours with trauma therapists, family coaches, physical and occupational therapists, teachers, principals, mentors, tutors, adoption support agencies, physicians, psychopharmacologists, and other adoptive parents than I'd ever want to tally up, all in hopes of finding ways to support our kids.
We have had to learn how to de-escalate situations when fear turned into violence, and a child bordering on the precipice of trust just couldn't take that final step -- yet. We have wept with joy when one of them instinctively reaches for our hands when she is scared, or stands quietly before an entire congregation and responds appropriately to the questions put to her when she is finally baptized. We've tried not to show our anxiety as they go off on weeklong school trips. We have stood in silent awe as they demonstrate great skill and passion for activities in which we are totally incompetent. We have been humbled as their amazing and unique personalities -- so different from ours, but clearly incorporating things we've taught -- come more and more into focus, and we begin to trust that they have bright, healthy futures. In short, we've become parents.
We know nearly a dozen other same-sex couples who have also adopted children with special needs, both from the U.S. and abroad. And there are hundreds, if not thousands of others like us across the U.S. In almost every case, they have given their kids an abundance of love and stability. The intentionality with which they chose to parent is carried forward into their raising of their daughters and sons. They have done all the things that other parents do, often while facing stigma and a lack of legal stability for their families.
Sexual orientation and marital status simply have nothing to do with a person's ability to be a good parent. Our public dollars should never fund agencies that justify long-disproved prejudices against families that do not look like the so-called norm as "religious belief or moral convictions." That would be a gross distortion of the longstanding constitutional understanding of religious liberty in our nation, which allows individuals and institutions to practice their faith and to express their religious beliefs freely, as long as those beliefs do not infringe on the essential rights of others. And it is clearly part of a concerted campaign to expand the definition of religious liberty to allow for discriminatory public practices in many arenas, including contraception and LGBT issues.
The cold truth is that the Inclusion Act is based on one of two bad assumptions, or both. The first is that gay and lesbian people are child molesters, hence the reminder that this debates involves "our most vulnerable." We now have decades of data proving that straight males are by far the most likely to sexually abuse children. The second fallacy is that a heterosexually married couple is always best equipped to raise children. That is simply heterosexism, blindly ascribing superiority even in the face of significant evidence to the contrary.
There are some heterosexual couples who are exemplary parents, and there are some same-sex couples who are exemplary parents. There are single people who somehow find the resources within themselves and in support communities to parent extraordinarily well. There are gay and straight people, coupled and single people who do not have what it takes to raise kids. Some become parents anyway, either through social pressure, mistaken belief in their capacities, or simply as a result of sexual intimacy. Some of these folks figure out how to parent over time, and others never do. Some of the children wind up needing social programs to step in and, hopefully, find them places where they can be appropriately nurtured.
The so-called Inclusion Act does nothing to protect children. To the contrary, it could continue depriving children of potentially loving, stable homes. And it does nothing to protect religious liberty. If there are agencies that truly believe they have a religious mandate to place children only with married, opposite-sex parents, and that there are parents wanting to place children for adoption clamoring for such agencies, then let them manage that service with private funding.