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Tennessee hints at what’s to come on adoption front

By | 2006-04-20T09:00:00-04:00 April 20th, 2006|News|

By Lisa Keen

Before Scott Hines and his partner Jon Hines adopted nine-year-old Louis, the young boy was being given 13 pills a day to control behavior problems. He had been abused by his biological parents and the foster care system in Tennessee.
“Louis was angry, and rightfully so,” said Scott Hines, in a statement to reporters prior to a Tennessee legislative hearing on gay adoptions this month. “No one else wanted Louis and, without an adoptive home, he would have been sentenced to a life of neglect and heart break.”
Scott and Jon Hines felt they had the parenting skills to help Louis, so they adopted him.
Scott Hines’ relatives have now asked the couple to adopt another child, a girl, born to a drug-addicted relative of Scott’s. But Tennessee legislators are considering bills to ban such adoptions.
The legislature considered such bills before and they have failed. But this year, the strategy of gay civil rights opponents has changed. Instead of introducing explicitly anti-gay bills concerning adoption, foster care, and guardianship, the legislators have introduced “stealth” bills, says Chris Sanders, a spokesperson for Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide LGBT organization.
The bills this year, he said, are worded such that they appear on the surface to be addressing some general matter of the state code concerning adoption, guardianship, and foster care.
“But when they think no one is watching,” said Sanders, “they want to amend the bills in committee to ban adoption by gays and lesbians.”
For example, one bill, introduced by State Rep. Paul Stanley, said Sanders, purports to address issues concerning information sharing rights of permanent guardians.
“Our concern is not with the bill as filed,” said Sanders, “but it opens up a section of the Tennessee code related to guardianship and all kinds of things can happen in committee.”
Plus, Paul Stanley was a sponsor of one of the explicitly anti-gay bills last year, noted Sanders.
Sanders acknowledged that it was hard, at first, to get the LGBT community’s sense of urgency up around the bills.
“You say, ‘Tennessee code’ and people’s eyes glaze over,” he said. But two things helped: One, the organization has a professional lobbyist watching for potentially dangerous legislation, and two, one of the state legislators ignited a political bonfire.
Republican State Rep. Debra Maggart told a constituent that research shows that “most homosexual couples have numerous emotional dysfunctions and psychological issues that may not be healthy for children.”
The comment was made in an e-mail response to a constituent in February who asked her to oppose the bills.
While she acknowledged in her e-mail that “emotional dysfunction can be found in heterosexual couples homes,” Maggart, who is herself divorced, claimed to “have seen evidence that homosexual couples prey on young males and have in some instances adopted them in order to have unfretted access to subject them to a life of molestation and sexual abuse.”
“Some of the evidence we were presented,” said Maggart, “showed that lesbian and gay couples have a higher rate of breaking up than heterosexual coupes as well as higher rates of promiscuity outside of their relationships.”
The e-mail got out to the media, and when it did, said Sanders, “we didn’t have to go through a long explanation about opening up the Tennessee code.”
“When Maggart made her comment,” said Sanders, “it became very clear there was a threat. The threat became palpable. It electrified the GLBT community in Tennessee.”
Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Pride, points to statements from numerous professional organizations supporting the adoption of children by gay couples.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in 2002 saying that “a considerable body of professional literature provides evidence” that children with same-sex parents “can have the same advantages and the same expectations for health, adjustment, and development as can children whose parents are heterosexual.”
Numerous other professional organizations have made similar declarations, including the North American Council on Adoptable Children, which says, “Children should not be denied a permanent family because of the sexual orientation of potential parents.”
Currently, only one state (Florida) bans gay couples from adopting. Twenty-five states allow gay couples to co-adopt children. (A judge in Michigan ruled in 2002 that adoptions by gay couples could no longer be allowed due to a state law which stipulates that only married couples and single individuals can adopt.)

In other recent adoption news:

* An Indiana appeals court ruled April 14 that a county court judge could not overturn the adoption of an infant because the adopting couple was gay.
* A Missouri circuit court ruled in February that the state’s denial of a foster care application by a lesbian amounted to “unreasonable” discrimination.
* Massachusetts’s Department of Early Education has said it will not take action to stop Catholic adoption agencies from barring gay couples from adoptions. The state’s human rights law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but Republican Governor Mitt Romney is seeking passage of a bill that would allow some groups to discriminate against gays by saying that equal treatment of gays violates their religious beliefs.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.