Senator Kirsten Gillbrand recently announced plans to introduce the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” in the U.S. Senate. With the National Adoption Month here – not to mention the release of a groundbreaking study highlighting the implications of anti-gay “family values” rhetoric on children and LGBT families – this is the perfect time to get the legislative ball rolling.
As more and more LGBT couples are getting married and starting families, we have a great opportunity to place children without a family into happy homes, either by adoption or foster care. But unfortunately, discrimination against both adoptive and foster parents based on sexual orientation or gender identity is still pervasive in this country. Currently, five states prohibit same-sex couples from adopting, and there are six states that ban same-sex parents from adopting their partner’s children. In all, 31 states practice some form of discrimination against LGBT families.
Precisely why we desperately need this legislation.
The “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” would prevent any adoption or foster care agency that receives federal funding from discriminating against potential adoptive or foster care parents based on gender identity, sexual orientation or marital status. The very fact that there is partisan opposition to a piece of legislation like this speaks volumes to the hypocrisy of the religious right. If they actually cared about the well being of our children, they wouldn’t work so tirelessly to prevent them from having safe homes and loving parents. In fact, a recent study shows that this relentless opposition to LGBT equality has severe consequences for children who live in LGBT homes. Nathaniel Frank elaborates,
Efforts by anti-gay activists have resulted in discriminatory adoption laws and practices. Even where adoption by gay people is not technically banned, restrictions, preferences and exclusions of unmarried couples extend the wait time of the roughly 115,000 foster children awaiting “forever homes”–sometimes indefinitely. (Excluding unmarried couples is a workaround to ban gay couples without saying so, since most states don’t allow gay couples to marry.) Astoundingly, in the name of “family values,” some states and adoption agencies would rather let foster kids flounder in temporary care than place them with a loving LGBT parent or couple–even though decades of social science research has found that kids of LGBT parents do just as well as other children. This kind of discrimination hurts kids and denigrates LGBT prospective parents, while helping no one but career anti-gay activists who play politics with kids’ lives to fill their fundraising coffers and make themselves feel virtuous.
What’s particularly interesting to me though is the blatant hypocrisy of the religious right and the need for the progressive movement to articulate a cohesive message around family values. For far too long the religious right in this country has maintained a stranglehold over the family unit and has leveraged that monopoly to further oppress marginalized communities. This unwavering hegemony over family values discourse has played a central role in the denigration of LGBT families; the persecution of low-income single-mothers; and the bankrupt, yet pervasive notion that any family structure outside the nuclear unit poses a threat to the social order. These messages permeate our institutions, cultural practices, and political ideologies to such a degree that it almost seems impossible to break away from.
Fortunately, it isn’t impossible. But it is going to take some serious work if we hope to break down this dominant narrative articulated by the conservative movement. Winning on our issues is going to require that we stay in control of the message and the public consciousness. We have to change the conversation.
If the family unit is such an integral part of American culture and society, then it’s time for the progressive movement to hijack the same family values rhetoric deployed by the religious right and use it to build families, rather than fracture them. Instead of utilizing this discourse to disenfranchise entire communities, we’ll leverage it to fight on behalf of marginalized ones. We’ll increase access to social and legal benefits and we’ll strengthen all families, not just the select few that survive a conservative litmus test.
Senator Kirsten Gillbrand’s proposed legislation is certainly an important step in the right direction. But we’re going to need more than a bill to change the public consciousness. We need the progressive movement to co-opt conservative rhetoric, generate a cultural shift, and build public support for policies that lay the foundation for families of all kinds to thrive.
Andrew (AJ) is a vehement progressive, youth activist, and reproductive justice organizer. When he's not busy with the movement, you can usually find him dancing in the club or watching trashy reality tv.