Raising Idaho 

Same-sex parents on adoption

It's a quiet Saturday morning in a coffee shop on Parkcenter Boulevard when I first meet a young married couple who tells me they are hoping to soon become adoptive parents. Seated at a solitary outdoor table, we exchange small talk and the two of them fidget with their paper coffee cups, understandably a bit nervous since they are about to share some of the most intimate details of their marriage with a stranger who will then publish their story. As we comment on the coffee shop's location and the nice weather, I notice their simple matching gold wedding bands, each with a single embedded diamond. When the chitchat fades to silence, I ask them to start at the beginning. There is a slight pause before they both start talking at the same time, finishing each other's sentences and correcting small details offered by the other.

They met six years ago, but they spent several years as friends before starting to date. After deciding to get married, the two attended pre-marriage couples counseling together before their wedding at Boise's First Congregational United Church of Christ. Now 25 and 27 years old, they'll celebrate their third wedding anniversary this August, and as an aside, they add that counseling should be mandatory for all couples thinking about getting hitched.

With their newlywed years almost behind them, the two are ready to start a family. Both the oldest of large immediate and extended families, they each helped raised younger siblings and cousins--some of whom have started families of their own--and both have always wanted to be parents. However, knowing they could never have children together, but wanting to raise their own kids, the two recently attended an infant adoption education class through the CASI Foundation. Now, armed with basic knowledge of the adoption process and Idaho's statutes on adoption, the two have begun making the necessary preparations to move into the next phase by making some difficult decisions. In addition to being faced with choices about open versus closed adoptions and the race, gender and age of an adoptive child, there is also an expensive price tag on adoption that must be realistically assessed. And for this particular young couple, it's possible that the biggest obstacle they face may be each other.

"I want two. A girl first and then a boy," says Duane. "A boy needs an older sister to help him understand women." But his husband Travis disagrees, saying he wants a boy first and then a girl because a girl needs an older brother to protect her.

"We didn't even think gay people could adopt," Duane says before explaining that when he and Travis first decided they were ready to start a family, they made several do-it-yourself attempts at artificial insemination with a lesbian couple with whom they were close friends.

In retrospect, Travis and Duane laugh at their failed impregnation attempts and at the number of women who over the years have offered to be a surrogate mother for them. Both express relief that their previous attempts at entering parenthood were unsuccessful.

"We were concerned about custody issues and how to raise a child [with another couple] and where those lines would be drawn," says Duane. "We understood it was not cut and dry, but we very much wanted to be dads." Once the two realized they were able to adopt children, they knew immediately that it was the best choice for them. "It's just a safer, more secure option for us and a child."

The federal government does not keep statistics on adoption, and data on the number of children being raised by same-sex parents widely varies. According to University of California demographer Gary Gates, the 2000 Census estimates that a quarter-million children nationwide are being raised in same-sex households and of those, more than 12,000 were adopted. Also according to the 2000 Census, 96 percent of all counties in the United States have at least one same-sex couple raising children under the age of 18, and one-third of all female same-sex couple households and one-fifth of all male same-sex couple households report having at least one child in the household. However, the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC) estimates that those numbers are much higher, claiming that between 8 and 10 million children are being raised in a gay or lesbian household by either a birth parent or adoptive parents.

But the accuracy of gay and lesbian adoption statistics is difficult to gauge. Myriad social and legal controversy surrounds gay and lesbian families, prompting many to refrain from identifying their home as a same-sex household. After recent years of fervent publicity on gay marriage, the small victories won in states' courts briefly allowing for gay marriage have created backlash legislation by the conservative right in power, who is now pushing for a constitutional amendment to explicitly forbid same-sex marriages. The ripples of social outcry created by the legalization of gay marriage in several other states are even being felt in Idaho, as the state legislature put civil unions on the chopping block in its last session. With the passage of a state marriage amendment appearing to many as a forgone conclusion, many gay and lesbian parents in Idaho are expecting the composition of families to come under fire next, in what some have dubbed "the other marriage war."

Current Idaho statutes regarding the adoption of minors do not allow for the joint adoption of a child by same-sex couples. In that respect, Idaho is aligned with the majority of states. Only nine states--California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Vermont--and Washington, D.C., allow same-sex couples joint parental rights.

Also illegal in Idaho is same-sex second parent adoptions. Therefore, if one partner already has parental rights to a child through adoption or birth, the gay or lesbian partner of that parent cannot apply for parental rights. However in Idaho, single parent adoptions are legal, regardless of the adoptive parent's identification as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT). In that respect, Idaho is again aligned with the majority of states' laws. In fact, Florida is the only state that denies GLBT individuals the right to adopt children. The Sunshine State outlawed all adoptions by gay and lesbian residents in 1977, a statute that was fiercely challenged in Rosie O'Donnell's much publicized crusade to have the law overturned several years ago.

Despite O'Donnell drawing national attention to gay and lesbian parental rights, for the most part the issue has managed to linger just below the political radar, where many same-sex couples hope it will stay. In off-record conversations with Boise Weekly, several local same-sex couples with children declined to comment even anonymously, fearing a full public disclosure of the current rights of gay and lesbian parents may lead to an expedited movement to strip the GLBT community of their limited parental rights now legal in Idaho.

However, for now Travis and Duane are optimistic about the what may appear to be a tenuous future for other gay and lesbian couples hoping to become adoptive parents. Referring to the success of a lesbian couple they know who was able to adopt four children--three siblings from out of state and an infant born with a drug addiction--they are confident that most case managers in Idaho are "operating on all cylinders and see gay couples as parents and as humans."

Lauri Corpus, adoption specialist with the Idaho Youth Ranch, corroborates that claim. The Idaho Youth Ranch has been doing adoptions since 1983, facilitating the placement of 12 to 15 infants each year, and the agency does work with gay and lesbian adoptive parents.

Corpus says she's not aware of any adoption agencies in town that would not work with a gay or lesbian couple hoping to adopt.

"The main thing [adoptive parents] have to do is have a pre-placement homestudy done," says Corpus. A state-licensed social worker employed either by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare or a private agency evaluates the lifestyle and homelife of potential adoptive parents and makes a recommendation to a judge as to whether the prospective parent or parents should be awarded parental rights of a child.

When a homestudy is completed involving a single-parent adoption by a gay or lesbian couple, the individual being evaluated is not the only one being observed. The Idaho Youth Ranch completes more than 100 homestudies a year in various cases for all kinds of families, and according to Corpus, a same-sex domestic partner would most likely be included in any homestudy conducted by the IYR. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare does not require adoptive parents to provide information on their sexual orientation, although the issue is usually noted by the social worker in a homestudy.

As to whether or not the classification of a home as a same-sex household affects the likelihood that a hopeful parent will receive parental rights, Corpus says, "I'm not aware of any cases when someone who is gay or lesbian has been denied adoptive parent status based simply on their sexual orientation."

Like the federal government, Idaho does not keep any statistics on how many children are adopted into gay or lesbian households each year, therefore the numbers are uncertain. What is certain is the GLBT community's reluctance to pursue more expansive rights, or to rock the boat in any way in an effort to avoid attacks from conservative groups seeking to "defend mainstream values."

Such is the goal of the Idaho Values Alliance (IVA), which endeavors to "make Idaho the friendliest place in the world to raise a family" in part by promoting and defending "the sanctity of marriage and family." An vocal advocate of the marriage amendment, IVA's executive director Bryan Fischer describes his view of adoption by the GLBT community as simple and straightforward.

"I think if we want to do what's best for children in Idaho, we will adopt every child into a two-parent household and the parents should consist of one mother and one father," says Fischer. "We all obviously have a deep concern for doing what's best for children, and if we want to show the greatest compassion and care for young children, we will put them in two-parent households."

Explaining his reason for holding such opinions, Fischer neatly sums up one of the most often-raised concerns of opponents of same-sex parents: "The social research overwhelmingly confirms our common sense perception that children need both a mother and a father for optimal development."

However, studies published by the American Psychological Association have found no evidence that children of same-sex parents suffer any detriment compared to children of heterosexual parents. "There is no evidence to suggest that lesbians and gay men are unfit to be parents," states a 1995 APA report on gay and lesbian parenting. The report concludes in saying, "Not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by gay and lesbian parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children's psychosocial growth."

Literature provided by the NAIC to hopeful adoptive parents, birth mothers and adoption professionals also addresses the perceived issues of gay and lesbian parents adopting children, including the concern that children raised by homosexual parents are more likely to grow up to be gay or lesbian adults. Considered the nation's authority on adoption, the NAIC cites not only the aforementioned APA study, but adds, "The bulk of evidence to date indicates that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are no more likely to become homosexual than children raised by heterosexuals."

Whether or not Travis and Duane will ultimately be awarded adoptive parent status remains to be seen as they go into the next phase of the adoption process, which is finding an agency. Currently employed at the Veteran's Administration Hospital, Travis is the household's primary income earner. However, he's planning to be a stay-at-home dad when children do enter the couple's future. In preparation for a homestudy that will accurately depict life in their household, Travis and Duane are currently making the necessary professional transitions that will put Duane in the position of serving as the family's breadwinner.

Though both Travis and Duane say they are not concerned about the possibility of an Idaho court denying Travis' request to be granted adoptive parent status, they agree that they'll go out of state if they have to and express frustration at many aspects of their situation.

"I always thought of getting a girl pregnant as an easy way out," says Duane. "Like when I was younger, if I became a dad then my priorities would have been figured out for me." But years later, he says, he realizes the hardship of becoming the young parent of an unplanned child. The hardship now, however, has become that in a stable marital and financial situation, at at time when he is far more capable of raising children, he can't have them. What's even more upsetting is that some people would actually consider him more fit if he were be a young, struggling heterosexual father, as opposed to a mature, stable homosexual father.

And as members of two very supportive families and a church who Travis laughs "would probably throw us a potluck like everyone else" when they finally start their family, their response to opponents like Fischer is commonsensical.

"Some people would rather keep kids in the foster care system instead of allowing loving, capable adults to take care of them. It's punishment to kids and it seems that if you wanted to focus on family values, you'd do that," says Travis.

"You know, there's always something that can hamper you in becoming adoptive parents--whether it's age or you're disabled or something," says Duane. "Ours is our gender."

But Travis is more idealistic in his take on their situation. "We're not a gay couple. We're an infertile couple."

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