03/23/2012 12:13 pm ET Updated May 23, 2012

Momentum for Children's Welfare, Equality

This week marked an important milestone in the effort to open more good homes to children in the foster care system. The bipartisan Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R. 1681 / S. 1770) now has 100 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. This legislation, which I introduced in May 2011, would end discrimination based on the sexual orientation or marital status of prospective parents in foster care and adoption placements. (Read my editorial in the Washington Post about the Every Child Deserves a Family Act)

This is an issue of standing up to bigotry, but it is also an issue of improving the lives of children. There are over 400,000 abused and neglected children in the foster care system and 120,000 of them are waiting to be adopted. Keeping these children in foster care costs the federal government over $8 billion a year. Children who age out of the system are at a higher risk of poverty, incarceration, and early parenthood then their peers.

We should be opening up more homes to kids, not denying qualified parents who are willing to provide a safe and stable home to children solely because of their sexual orientation or marital status. The only criteria in adoption and foster care placements should be what is in the child's best interest. Homophobia and discrimination should not be a part of the equation.

Unfortunately, only six states -- including my home state, California -- and the District of Columbia affirmatively allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly. Many states are silent on the issue, but others affirmatively allow discrimination. In February, Virginia passed a law allowing adoption agencies to deny placements simply because of the sexual orientation of the adoptive parent. Other states do not allow unmarried people to adopt. These policies are based in discrimination and nothing else.

Thirty years of scientific research has concluded that kids develop best when they have stable attachments to committed and nurturing parents. A child's success does not depend on the marital status or sexual orientation of the parents. That's why every major child welfare organization, including the Child Welfare League of America and the National Association of Social Workers, agree that allowing qualified, unmarried, lesbians and gay men to adopt or foster children is the right policy.

I am proud that over 100 of my colleagues from all across the country have joined me in standing up for the interests of foster children and against bigotry. I look forward to the day when discrimination plays no part in our child welfare system.