Unmarried Equality believes that adoption decisions in the United States should based on the best interest of each individual child. The marital status, sexual orientation, or family structure of prospective adoptive parents should not be the primary criteria by which adoption placement decisions are made. The pool of prospective adoptive parents should not be artificially diminished solely because of these people’s marital status, sexual orientation, or family structure. Decisions about a child’s best interest should be made by those who are professionally trained in such matters.

Children are Waiting to be Adopted

There are 408,425 children in the U.S. waiting to be adopted (Children’s Defense Fund, 2011). Most of these children are school-aged or in a sibling group that needs to stay together. Most have experienced abuse or neglect; many have physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities.

There is a severe shortage of adults interested in adopting older, special needs children, or children of color. For example in 2009, while African American children made up only 15 percent of the U.S. child population, they represented approximately 30% of the number of children in foster care (Black Administrators in Child Welfare, 2011). At a convening of child welfare experts in Houston, TX one particpant stated that there existed a “dysfunctional cultural response to the African American community” (Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, 2011).

One result of this is that too many children grow up in foster care or institutional settings, turn 18, and “age out” of state care without having been adopted. In 2008, over 30,000 young people aged out of foster care without being integrated into a permanent family (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, HHS Administration for Children and Families, 2009). Studies find that one in four of these children are incarcerated within two years after leaving the system, about one-fifth become homeless, and fewer than 3% earn a college degree (Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, 2007). Clearly, having a parent(s) matters in the lives of children and young adults, far beyond age 18.

Unmarried People Want to Adopt

Single and unmarried people are often open to adopting an older child or a child with special needs, while married couples often seek only to adopt a healthy newborn. In fact, single and unmarried adults already adopt about 33% of children from state care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004).

Countless unmarried partners (same-sex or different-sex) are co-parenting a child or children, but frequently only one partner has a legal relationship to the child(ren). In many cases it would benefit the child(ren) to have a legal relationship to both parents. Many, but not all, states allow “co-parent adoptions” or “second parent adoptions,” which create a second legal parent-child relationship for these families. Qualified, screened single and LGBT people can be excellent parents. Having a single or LGBT parent could be in an individual child’s best interest, for a number of reasons.

Some States are Trying to Block Adoptions

As of May 2011: Arizona recently enacted a new bill which states preference that a child be adopted by “a married man and woman.” While single people can adopt, there are certain conditions in which they would be considered: no married couple is available; the single person is the child’s legal relative; the child would otherwise be placed in extended foster care; a “meaningful and healthy relationship” exists between the child and the single person; the birth parent(s) places the child with the single person; or the child’s best interests require adoption by the single person.The emphasis on a single person leads us to believe unmarried couples are unable to jointly adopt a child, as explaned by Nancy Polikoff in her blog post on the issue. View alert above to take action.

*Read more about recent state adoption bans.

In 2010, the Louisiana Senate struck down a measure that would allow unmarried couples to adopt and allow an existing parent to
petition a court to be a second legal parent. Arizona struck down its ban on same-sex couples and all unmarried cohabiting couples. In 2009, Florida ruled its adoption ban unconstitutional. Kentucky and Tennessee attempt to pass adoption bans died. Currently, Utah bars adoptions by persons who are cohabiting but not legally married; this language could be interpreted to encompass gay and lesbian adoptions. Five states (Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin) explicitly prohibit same-sex co-parents from petitioning to adopt their partner’s child, or the child of their relationship. In three states (Georgia, Mississippi and Wyoming) the right to petition is unclear. Michigan has no statutory ban however, state courts have ruled that unmarried individuals are not allowed to jointly petition to adopt.

In addition, some states have passed laws giving married couples priority in adoption, and some prevent same-sex couples or unmarried people from becoming foster parents (foster parenting is often a first step towards adoption).

These laws harm children. For children waiting to be adopted, adoption bans shrink the pool of qualified adoptive parents, in some cases even preventing a child’s own foster parents from becoming her or his permanent, adoptive parents. For children with only one legal parent plus a co-parent, these bans make the parent-child relationship unnecessarily vulnerable. If the first parent should die, or if the couple should separate, courts can refuse to recognize the second parent and prevent the child from having an ongoing relationship with one of the people who has acted as her/his parent.

Check out a personal story by Freddie O’Connell who talks about adoption discrimination in his home state and why he supports the Every Child Deserves a Family Act!

Some States are Trying to Make Adoptions Easier

While it is not easy for unmarried different-sex couples to adopt as unmarried couples, these adoptions do take place in states around the country. Most of the time they are done using the two-step process (a single parent adoption followed by a second-parent adoption). Some states allow unmarried couples to adopt a child simultaneously (as married couples do), including: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, DC. In the first half of 2007, Colorado passed a bill allowing (non-simultaneous) second parent adoptions by same-sex co-parents, joining California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Washington, DC. New Hampshire currently allows one of the two partners of a couple to adopt, while the other can obtain guardianship.

In October 2009, U.S. Representative Pete Stark introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act in Congress. The bill says that the federal government will withhold funding from states that discriminate against prospective adoptive or foster parents based on marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity.  On May 3, 2011 a committee hearing was held on the issue — progress is being made!