Sunday, February 06, 2005

Over-the-Rainbow Adoption Policy

Poor Adam Ebbin! The Democrat from Virginia's 49th House of Delegates district revealed in a floor debate yesterday that he is culturally deprived. He admitted to all present that he does not possess a boxed set of Judy Garland CDs!

Some context:

The Virginia House of Delegates has approved a bill that would require adoption agencies to investigate whether prospective adoptive parents are homosexual. The measure (HB2921) is a watered-down version of Delegate Dick Black's proposal to ban outright any adoptions by gay couples or individuals in Virginia. (Black might have trouble with that terminology: In an interview with Washington radio station WMAL-AM on January 26, he used this phrase: "homosexual couples or whatever you call them." My friend, Tim Hulsey, who was listening to the radio with me when we heard this, said "That's precisely what you call them." But enough -- making fun of Dick Black's ignorance is not sporting.)

As reported in Sunday's Washington Times ("House considers gay adoption screening"):

Delegate Richard H. Black said his bill would require state officials, during a standard background check, to report to the court whether the applicant is "currently engaged in voluntary homosexual activity."

Mr. Black, a Loudoun Republican, said children "deserve the greatest opportunity to experience the natural love of a mother and father" and that his bill just tightens existing law and state tradition.

"In these politically correct times, I think it helps to make the law very, very explicit," he said.

And here is where we learn of Delegate Ebbin's pop-culture lacunae:

Delegate Robert H. Brink, Arlington Democrat, challenged Mr. Black's bill.

He asked if an investigator would check the applicant's compact-disc collection to see whether it included "mostly show tunes or includes a Judy Garland box set." His colleagues laughed.

"This bill is another attempt to marginalize, stigmatize and demonize folks, fellow Virginians, who happen to be gay," Mr. Brink said. "It has nothing to do with what should be the bedrock principle of adoption — to give a kid a chance to grow up in a loving, caring environment." Delegate Adam P. Ebbin, the legislature's only openly homosexual member, also opposed the measure.

"This legislation moves our investigators into the bedroom and turns them into the new sex police," said Mr. Ebbin, an Alexandria Democrat. He also said he does not have a Judy Garland box set.

I propose that, after the moratorium on campaign fundraising by elected officials ends with the final vote of the General Assembly on or about February 26, we should pitch in to purchase a set of Judy Garland CDs for the unfortunate Mr. Ebbin. I would suggest starting with Judy At Carnegie Hall: Fortieth Anniversary Edition or Judy Garland In Hollywood: Her Greatest Movie Hits - Original Soundtrack Performances 1936-1963.

Or we could simply go whole-hog and present him with Judy Garland: The Complete Decca Masters, a box set of her early recordings. No self-respecting gay legislator's home should be without at least one Judy Garland collection. With proper training and assistance, Mr. Ebbin should then be able to own and enjoy the classic Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli: Together (one shouldn't dive head-first into such unadulterated camp without preparation).

Full disclosure: In a 1991 special election and again in the 1993 general election, I ran for the 49th District House seat now held by Adam Ebbin, and the two of us have had a passing acquaintance for more than a decade.

But seriously ....

Now that I've got that out of my system, I want to address the substance of Black's blacklist bill.

Regardless of the claims of the bill's supporters, legislation like this -- particularly in its more virulent, unamended form before it came out of the Committee on Health, Welfare, and Institutions -- is nothing more than an attempt to codify undeserved animus against one type of law-abiding citizen. At best it is a form of heterosexism; at worst it is pure homophobia.

In an article about the state of Florida's similar ban on gay adoptive parents, columnist Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune wrote:

Normally, the state assesses applicants individually, on the crazy assumption that it should focus on what's best for the child. But when the prospective parent is gay, the interests of the child go out the window. Despite everything Lofton has done for the boy, the state is trying to place him in another home.

This approach is not the preference of the people charged with looking after the needs of kids. When the state's chief adoption official was asked under oath if there is any "child-welfare reason at all for excluding gay people from adopting children," she answered: "No."

The original impulse, it turns out, was not to protect children but to penalize gays. The measure, passed in 1977, was an offshoot of singer Anita Bryant's successful campaign to repeal a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals. The bill's chief sponsor explained it as a valiant effort to open lines of communication with gays: "We're trying to send them a message, telling them: 'We're really tired of you. We wish you'd go back into the closet.'"

Chapman concludes:

At any rate, the choice for many adoptable children in Florida is not between a homosexual couple and the ideal heterosexual household, but between being adopted by homosexuals and not being adopted at all. This policy is one reason so many Florida youngsters are growing up without a permanent home.

The policy handed down by policymakers in Florida has two components, which can be summarized as follows: Kids are better off with no parents than with gay parents, and if there is evidence to suggest otherwise, we don't want to hear it.

As reported in Friday's Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, "According to the Child Welfare League of America, nearly 500,000 children were in foster care in 2001, but only about 35,000 were adopted that year." The newspaper quotes Elizabeth Cramer, a professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, as testifying that "lesbians and gay men are adopting children that other people don’t want.”

When gay sex was illegal, one could make an argument for prohibiting gay people from adopting children -- or at least subjecting such prospective parents to greater scrutiny. But since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that states have no constitutional authority to regulate private, consensual, non-commercial, sexual behavior, those types of arguments no longer hold water. Gay and lesbian couples are no longer presumptive felons. They live and work and pay their taxes on the same legal footing as heterosexual couples do (lacking, of course, the right to marry in the sight of the law).

As long as unmarried individuals or couples are permitted to adopt children -- and they are, in Virginia and all other states -- there should be no prohibition on or heightened scrutiny of gay individuals or couples who seek to adopt children. Gay men and women have been good and great parents for centuries. No law designed to stigmatize them will end that long record of nurture and accomplishment.

1 comment:

Tim said...

It's perfectly sporting to make fun of a legislator's ignorance. These guys work hard to earn our ridicule. Alas, I don't own the Judy Garland box set either.