States Offering Full Marriage Equality Have Lowest Rates Of Child
Editor’s note: This piece originally ran on Father’s Day, 2009.
There are 2.9 million children in America living with no parents – and 1.6 million American children are homeless. 2.9 million is almost 1 percent of the entire U.S. population – and that figure is five years old. Half a million U.S. children live with foster parents.
Those half a million foster kids? Only half will graduate high school, only 2% will earn a Bachelor’s degree. The day they turn 18, 30% will have no health insurance and will be on public assistance.
Last November, voters in Arkansas decided that unmarried couples – same-sex couples, obviously – should not be allowed to adopt children. Voters in Florida came up with the same result, but at least a Florida court later that month rightly deemed Florida’s 30 year-old ban on homosexuals adopting children unconstitutional.
Now for some more hard facts. Arkansas ranks third worst in child homelessness in America, and its state’s planning and policy on child homelessness, unsurprisingly, is deemed “inadequate” by The National Center on Family Homelessness. (Florida is not much better: 43rd out of 50.) There are a quarter of a million children living in poverty in Arkansas, and almost 19,000 homeless children, 8,000 of whom are under six years old. And if you think this is an issue that affects minorities the most, well, in Arkansas, 54% of those poverty-stricken children are white.
Yet, despite all these statistics, and the pain, suffering, and severe emotional distress associated with child homelessness, Arkansas would rather let its children suffer than allow gay and lesbian couples – married or not – adopt. In addition to Arkansas (which, you’ll remember, ranks #48), Michigan (#29), Mississippi (#41), and Utah (#37) all prohibit same-sex couples to jointly petition for adoption. Nebraska (#34), according to The National Gay And Lesbian Task Force, “prohibits adoption by individuals ‘who are known by the agency to be homosexual or who are unmarried and living with another adult.’”
While there might be no direct correlation, right now, the states that offer full marriage equality are also among the states that rank lowest in child homelessness. Connecticut (#1), New Hampshire (#2), Massachusetts (#8), Maine (#9), Vermont (#10), and Iowa (#11). Hawaii, with a long-standing domestic partnership history, ranks #3. Utah, by comparison, which ranks #38, prohibits adoption by “a person who is cohabiting in a relationship that is not a legally valid and binding marriage.” Coincidence?
Is it possible that the states that truly care about children and families are the states that care about all children and all families?
Given the current economic crisis, there can be no doubt these numbers will dramatically worsen this year.
And speaking of all children, it is estimated that 40% of all homeless children are LGBTQ youth. These children – and they most certainly are children – are more likely, according to the Task Force, “to use drugs, participate in sex work, and attempt suicide.” What a shame that there are so many same-sex couples who would be thrilled to adopt children. What a shame they often are prohibited from doing so. What a shame that those same-sex couples who have adopted children are prohibited from marrying, further alienating the children from society.
In America, most gay and lesbian couples are not allowed to marry. In the six states that now support full marriage equality, these couples can marry but are still deprived the 1138 federal benefits their heterosexual married peers enjoy. In America, many gay and lesbian couples are not allowed to adopt as a family. One member often, although in some states not at all, may adopt, the other member, essentially, is forced to “pretend.” These couples face the additional burden of fear should a family member go to the hospital, and the additional burden of greater taxes than their heterosexual peers. Given all same-sex families have to do to ensure their relationships are recognized legally and socially, it’s a crime the government, which claims to have an interest in supporting the family, does not see an interest in supporting same-sex families.
Families in America, many families, are in crisis. Throughout America, there are groups chartered with the claimed mission of “protecting the family.” They work to do anything but. Take the National Organization For Marriage, for instance. Maggie Gallagher, its founder, reportedly takes an average one-third of all money her organization collects. On top of that, they claim they spent $1.5 million to produce and air a commercial which was designed to drum up fear and hatred of homosexuals and gay marriage. That means that people around the country donated more than two and a quarter million dollars to “protect the family,” and got for it a TV ad and a hefty salary for Mrs. Gallagher. $2.25 million dollars could have gone a long way in helping families learn to cope with the challenges this new economy is forcing them to face. Heck, $2.25 million dollars could have gone a long way to help those quarter of a million kids living in poverty in Arkansas.
What are we saying as a country that claims moral leadership of the free world, a country that claims to celebrate the family, and yet denies the very right to create and maintain a family to millions of its citizens? What are we saying to the half a million children in foster care who aren’t being adopted, when we deny gay and lesbian couples the right to marry or the right to adopt children as a family? What are we saying to the children of America when we celebrate holidays like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and Christmas, spending billions of dollars to promote a fantasy, while their fantasy is merely to have two adults take care of them, feed them, clothe them, school them, protect them, spend time with them, love them? And what are we saying to the millions of homeless and orphaned children who hear ads on TV that say, “This Father’s Day, be sure to give Dad the very best”? Why don’t we have a Children’s Day, so we could remember our obligation to give children our very best, including homes with parents who love them.
To the hundreds of thousands of single gays and lesbians raising children, biologically yours or not, and to the hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples raising children, biologically one of yours or not, I say, thank you.
To the millions of people who ever voted to ban same-sex couples from adopting children, to the millions more who have voted against marriage equality or gay adoption, I say, shame on you. And to the millions of orphaned and homeless children, I say, there is hope.
(image: Pink Sherbet Photography)
Out And Alone: Gay Homeless Youth (The New York Times Multimedia)
Young. Gay. Homeless. (YouTube video)
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