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Guest Host: Melissa Ross
Last month a judge in Utah ordered a lesbian couple to give up their foster daughter to heterosexual parents. The order was reversed. But the decision highlighted a lack of parenting and adoption protections for same-sex couples. Although the Supreme Court affirmed the right to same-sex marriage nationally in June, many states have not changed their parenting rights policies. And new bills in a few states would allow adoption agencies to refuse same-sex couples for religious reasons. Legal battles over parenting and adoption rights for same-sex couples.
- Peter Sprigg senior fellow for policy studies, Family Research Council
- Emily Hecht-McGowan director of public policy, Family Equality Council
- Michele Zavos managing partner and founder of Zavos Juncker Law Group, a metropolitan D.C. area firm specializing in family law
- Martin Gill plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against Florida's ban on adoption by same-sex couples
10-Year-Old Nathaniel Gill Testifies About His Two Dads
MS. MELISSA ROSSThanks for joining us. I'm Melissa Ross from WJCT in Jacksonville, Florida, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's out today, but will be back Monday. The Supreme Court affirmed the rights of same-sex couples to marry nationally in June. But in many states, gays and lesbians don't have the same parenting and adoption rights as heterosexual couples.
MS. MELISSA ROSSWith me in the studio to talk about ongoing court and legislative battles on parenting rights, Emily Hecht-McGowan with the Family Equality Counsel, Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council and Michele Zavos, a family law attorney. We'll be taking your comments and questions throughout the hour. Call us at 800-433-8850. Send us your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Emily, let's begin with you.
MS. MELISSA ROSSLast month's ruling by a judge in Utah that a lesbian couple give up their foster child. Even though that ruling was reversed, it highlighted the lack of parenting and adoption protections for same-sex couples. Bring us up to date on the background of that case.
MS. EMILY HECHT-MCGOWANSure. There was a lesbian couple in Utah who had been fostering a one-year-old girl for a period of time and had started the procedure to adopt her. They had the approval of the guardian ad-litem. They had approval of Social Service agencies. They had the approval of the birth mother. And they went before the judge who decided that that child would be better off with a different sex couple rather than being raised by this very happy, healthy, stable home with a same sex couple.
MS. EMILY HECHT-MCGOWANAnd he cited debunked research and invoked his own personal bias in that decision. And as you stated, he eventually rescinded that order of removal and recused himself from the case so the child is still with the lesbian couple.
ROSSMichele, the child is still with the couple. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, but when it comes to parenting and adoption rights, marriage and parenting, as we're learning, aren't the same things in the courts.
MS. MICHELE ZAVOSUnfortunately, that is correct. The way we look at family law in the United States is a state by state situation. And so that means that various states can use their own law to determine whether someone is actually a parent. And for opposite sex couples who are married, there's going to be what we call a marital presumption that both of those parents are the legal parents of the child. That same presumption should apply to same-sex couples, but unfortunately, we're starting to see some cases around the country where the marital presumption is not applied in the same way.
ROSSPeter Sprigg, you think the Utah judge's position was a defensible one.
MR. PETER SPRIGGI certainly do. For one thing, the decision by the Supreme Court on marriage was specific to marriage so I think it should be interpreted only as requiring that same-sex couples be granted marriage licenses. It should not be extrapolated to other issues, such as the question of adoption or foster care parenting issues. And I think that certainly there is abundant reason to believe that children do best when raised by a married mother and father.
MR. PETER SPRIGGAnd within the context of foster care, the judge has an obligation to do what's in the best interest of the child and he exercised that discretion.
ROSSAnd what research does the Family Research Council cite to buttress the claim that a child is better off with a heterosexual couple?
SPRIGGWell, there's an abundance of research showing that children do better overall when raised by their own married biological father who are committed to one another in a lifelong marriage. There are just reams of research showing that. Now, this is a slightly different situation because of the fact that you're dealing with a situation where they're being removed from their biological parents.
SPRIGGBut we think that there is evidence to suggest that children would do better with a mother and father, even if it's not their biological parents.
ROSSEmily Hecht-McGowan, you clearly disagree.
HECHT-MCGOWANThe issue around whether or not gays and lesbians make good parents and same-sex couples ability to parent has been well settled. There are decades of research on this issue. Every major child welfare association across the country agrees the lesbian and gay people make good parents and the outcomes for children are just as good as those raised by different sex couples. This issue was litigated extensively in the Michigan marriage case out of the sixth circuit.
HECHT-MCGOWANOne of the cases that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. The research that Mr. Spriggs cites was thoroughly debunked in that case and the Supreme Court, in its decision to uphold -- to grant marriage nationwide acknowledged that.
ROSSAnd let me ask you, Michele, when it comes to parenting, there seems to be almost a patchwork approach now when we look at the states when it comes to parenting rights. Seven states explicitly bar discrimination against gay parents in foster care, seven states. But this varies from state to state so should a couple move -- take a job in another state and they have children, they might be facing a different situation potentially. Is that right?
ZAVOSThat's right. And it's actually quite complicated because foster care means that children have been taken away from birth or legal parents because of abuse or neglect and that the state is now essentially being the parent and determining who will then raise the child. What happens for people who move from state to state is if they do not have a court order saying that they are both legal parents, they are potentially in jeopardy as to whether they will both be considered legal parents.
ZAVOSAnd that brings up the Alabama case where a lesbian couple obtained what we call a second parent adoption in, I think it was, Atlanta in Georgia. They happened to live in Alabama, but they did go to Georgia. They obtained their adoption order and we have a principle in the United States under the U.S. Constitution called full faith and credit, that the laws and judgments of every state are supposed to be given the full faith and credit of the laws and judgments of other states.
ZAVOSThe judgments piece has not public policy exception. But what happened in the Alabama case is the two women broke up. The woman who was the biological parent of three children who they had raised for ten or eleven years kept the children from the other mother. The other mother sued for custody or visitation and the Alabama Supreme Court eventually said that the Georgia decision would not be recognized by Alabama. And that's a total outlier. It is contrary to our constitutional juris prudence and had now been, I think, by the National Center For Lesbian Rights, has been sent to the Supreme Court asking the court to review that case.
ROSSPeter Spriggs, are the rights of these couples being abridged?
SPRIGGWell, I think it's important to remember that there is no right to adopt. There is no right to be a foster parent. These are legal constructs that exist entirely for the benefit of the child. So we should not even be talking about rights in this context. The only right to parenthood is the right to biological parenthood as a result of natural procreation, but that's something that can only take place through the relationship of a man and a woman.
SPRIGGWe certainly believe in protecting the rights of biological parents regardless of their sexual orientation. I think there should be great deference to the rights of a biological parent. But this concept of a psychological parent or a parent by virtue of being a partner of the biological parent is something that I do think is to the benefit of children.
HECHT-MCGOWANWell, that issue in the Alabama case, for instance, was discussed and considered when the adoption was granted in Georgia and that was the job of the Georgia court was to determine what was in the best interest of those children. In this case, the biological mother and the adoptive mother both consented to the adoptions and the Alabama court had one job, which was to give full faith and credit to that adoption decree.
HECHT-MCGOWANIt was eight years later that the Alabama Supreme Court decided to void that adoption and not give it full faith and credit.
ROSSAnd different states have had different cases. For example, Michigan's governor signed a law earlier this year that would let adoption agencies refuse placements for religious reasons. Other states debating similar bills. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a religious liberty bill that would allow agencies such as Catholic charities to refuse placements to same-sex couples. Michele Zavos, what about the religious liberty argument?
ZAVOSWell, I think, frankly, the religious liberty argument is specious. And the reason for that is that these agencies depend on government money and, again, under our constitution, under Supreme Court juris prudence, these agencies should not be allowed to discriminate. Now, if they want to be purely private and they go not take any government money, that's a different question. But all of the businesses who operate in the public sphere and provide public accommodations, whether it's a wedding cake or an adoption agency or a wedding venue, everyone should be required to provide the same services to everyone.
ROSSPeter, you support the Michigan law.
SPRIGGCertainly. I think that just as there is family diversity, there can be diversity among child welfare agency providers. And those that do this work because they are motivated by their faith should be able to carry out their work in accordance with the dictates of their faith. And I believe that as long as there are other providers available that are perfectly happy to serve same-sex couples, then really same-sex couples have no legitimate complaint about this.
HECHT-MCGOWANThe primary obligation of an agency doing child welfare work, especially for youth who've been removed from their families of origin is the best interest of children. And a faith-providers religious liberty cannot be imposed on those children and when you are talking about the best interest of those children, we need to make sure the service providers are acting in their best interests. Those children have no choice about the providers who serve them.
ROSSAnd coming up, more of our conversation. I'm Melissa Ross sitting in for Diane Rehm. Keep listening.
ROSSWelcome back. I'm Melissa Ross sitting in for Diane Rehm this morning, as we continue our conversation on parenting rights for LGBT couples. We're joined today by Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of public policy at the Family Equality Council, Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, and Michele Zavos, a managing partner and founder of Zavos Juncker Law Group, a metropolitan D.C. area firm specializing in family law.
ROSSAnd joining us now by phone from Tallahassee, Fla., Martin Gill. He was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Florida's ban on adoption by same-sex couples. The ban was ruled unconstitutional in 2010. Last April, Gill's adopted son testified against a new state bill that gay-rights activists say would allow agencies to discriminate against same-sex parents. Martin Gill, thanks for being with us.
MR. MARTIN GILLGood morning. Thank you.
ROSSLet's start at the beginning. You and your partner became foster parents of two boys in 2004. Tell us about when you first met the children.
GILLOkay. Well, first, the state called us and asked us if we could take two kids. And it was just before Christmas in 2004. And we had so many plans that I was saying no. And I guess other foster parents were saying no as well. Because an hour later they called back and they were insistent. And they said, you know, we might have to send these two young brothers to a shelter. And that really got me because we were having Christmas at home and we were having family over and things like that. And I thought, we can open our doors for these two. And we did.
GILLAnd an hour later, there they were at our door. The four-month-old baby was sick and had ringworm all over his head. His four-year-old brother also was completely bald from ringworm. And they were both underweight. The baby was crying. And the social worker handed me the baby and said, there are meds in the bag. I know he's sick. But it looks like they've been to the doctor and everything's been taken care of. And anyway, a little bit later I looked in the bag and there were meds in the bag. They were prescribed a whole month earlier and they were never even opened. And it was a Amoxiclav and it had gone bad, it was rancid.
GILLAnd so basically there were no meds that we could use in that bag. But we went about nursing those two back to health and gave them a really nice Christmas. As things went on, they had a relative that was going to take them. And it was month-by-month. And before we knew it, it had been almost a year. And they began talking about termination of parental rights. Apparently that relative decided that it wasn't a good idea to take these two young brothers. And when that happened, finally a social worker showed up.
GILLAnd he started to do little resumes on the kids and was asking me questions about them. And I thought, this is odd, because I've seen, like, the Heart Gallery and stuff, and I know that they offer sibling groups on the Heart Gallery. Why are they doing individual bios on my kids? And he said, right in front of my kids -- at that point, you know, I had a one year old and a five year old at that point -- and he said, right in front of them, well, the five year old is really not a good candidate for adoption. He's special needs. He's already in kindergarten. I don't think anyone's going to want him.
ROSSBut you decided you wanted him.
GILLWe did. We absolutely knew that we could give them a good home and we could do something -- we could keep those two together. That's something that they weren't offering. They were going to offer them separately. He said, the baby would be a great candidate for adoption. We will get him an adoptive family in a minute. He's normal, he's bright, he smiles a lot. He said, the brother not so much. He'll probably stay with you guys.
ROSSIn 2010, an appeals court upheld that the ban on gay adoption in Florida was unconstitutional. In April, your 10-year-old son testified against proposed legislation that might have rolled back some of that. It would have allowed adoption agencies to opt out of child placements in Florida. Tell us a little bit about your son's experience.
GILLOkay. My son's kind of gone full circle. He was the baby with the ear infection when he came. And he's become quite an advocate. Anyway, he has seen me write speeches before. And when I've done that, he quite often sits down and writes his own. And anyway, he -- I told him about what I was doing last year for what was HB-7111, which was the Adoption Discrimination Bill here in the State House in Florida. And I explained it to him. And he sat down and wrote his speech. So we got to what was the -- I believe it was the Justice Committee in the Senate and he got up to testify. In the middle of his speech, he was cut off by Representative Charles McBurney of Jacksonville.
GILLAnd because he was cut off -- I mean, his speech was heartfelt. And you had to realize that being a foster child at one point and being adopted and being adopted by a gay father, he probably had more to bring to that particular -- to his testimony than anyone else in that room. But he got cut off right in the middle. And the fact that he got cut off ended up being really a good thing, because it made -- it went viral on the Internet. It got over 120,000 views on YouTube. And even Representative McBurney felt compelled to explain what had happened by releasing a statement to the press on why he cut off Nathaniel.
ROSSRight. And didn't Charles McBurney say, it had more to do with just the packed legislative calendar, I believe.
GILLWell, there were a lot of people testifying. Although I went back and replayed and replayed, and the three people that were testify -- in advocating for this bill were given a little more time than all of the people that were against it. So, yeah, it was procedure. But procedure is not always applied fairly.
ROSSWell, the YouTube video of your son testifying can be seen on our website at drshow.org. And so how do you feel that your family's experience informs the conversation about same-sex parenting rights nationally, Martin Gill?
GILLOh. Well, I think, what I like to point out is that, really, it's not as much about the parents as it is about the kids. There are still 100,000 children in the U.S. in foster care that are waiting for adoption. And a large percent of them are in foster care for three years or more without being adopted. And I think the fact that we won, and since we won, in Florida alone I know that at least 100 more children per year have been adopted. And I would take some credit. Our family can take some credit for that.
ROSSMartin Gill, a plaintiff in a lawsuit that overturned Florida's ban on adoption by same-sex couples. Thanks for being with us.
ROSSSo, Peter Sprigg, when we listen to Martin Gill give this heartfelt rendering of his family's experience and say that so many children in foster care are awaiting good homes, what about the argument that it doesn't matter, in Martin's point of view, whether it's a heterosexual couple or a same-sex couple?
SPRIGGWell, a couple things about foster care, first of all. Most children in foster care are not eligible for adoption. They are waiting either to be reunited with their biological parents, if the parents are able to get their act together or the next priority is often kinship care, where they are cared for by another relative -- a grandparent or an aunt or uncle or something like that. So we shouldn't assume that if a child is in foster care, it means that they're awaiting adoption. We have taken the position that even if same-sex couples are permitted to be foster parents, that there should at least be a preference for -- an explicit preference for placing children with a married mother and father if it is at all possible.
SPRIGGAnd then other family structures, including single parents as well as same-sex couples, might be used if there is a shortage of married couples. But we think it's legitimate to have that preference.
ROSSEmily Hecht-McGowan, you're shaking your head.
HECHT-MCGOWANWell, Mr. Sprigg talks about the preference for married mothers and fathers. And, again, we go back to the decades of research. And the studies that Mr. Sprigg refers to, that he says, you know, contradict the research that every child welfare association agrees with. And what we do know from the research, not just that gays and lesbians make good parents, but that children do best when in a loving, stable and secure home, and that the gender of the parents has nothing to do with that.
ROSSIn fact, you can speak to your own experience, going through a confirmatory adoption -- what you've called a belt-and-suspenders approach. Can you explain what you mean by a belt-and-suspenders approach to you and your wife adopting?
HECHT-MCGOWANSure. This goes back to the, you know, general principle that the marriage decision in June of this year -- the Obergefell decision -- there was a lot -- there's this myth or assumption that it cures all for the gay community, that we now have all the protections that we need under the law. And that's just not true. Marriage provides marital rights and benefits and responsibilities. But it doesn't secure everything with regard to parentage. My wife and I live in Maryland. We were married at the time -- recognized as married in Maryland. Maryland didn't yet issue marriage licenses when we had our daughter but they recognized our marriage and they did recognize my wife as the non-birth parent -- I gave birth to our daughter -- as a legal parent.
HECHT-MCGOWANBut because that is not -- the parental presumption is not settled law, nationwide, because every state looks at that differently, we went to court in Baltimore City and completed a confirmatory or a second-parent adoption to ensure that that full faith and credit judgment that we rely on would be recognized and respected anywhere we went. And as we learned earlier with the Alabama case, that is now questionable.
ROSSMichele Zavos, do you foresee a future where this type of matter for families will be settled law?
ZAVOSI do. I certainly hope for it. But we're not there. And I actually wanted to address something that Peter Sprigg said earlier, that biology is really the most important thing in determining who's a parent. He makes an interesting comment, because if you go back in history, biology was not everything. Children were property. Women were property. And men automatically got the children. So the women who were the biological parents really had no legal rights. So we've seen a progression on how family has been defined. And we're seeing that in the United States as well, where we're, I hope, moving toward is intent to parent.
ZAVOSAnd this is really about stability for children. It is about children's best interests, which is the legal standard when a custody or a visitation or something like that is determined. And I think it's very important to understand that the law -- and certainly the law as it is now -- is not a static thing. It has been changing. And certainly in this area, in the District of Columbia and Maryland and now, frankly, even Virginia, we've seen an enormous change in the last five years.
ROSSPeter, is discomfort with this change -- in particular when it comes to LGBT families with children -- is discomfort with this change driving the reluctance, perhaps, among some judges in some states to grant full parenting rights?
SPRIGGWell, I would point out -- Emily used this term parental presumption. And in some ways the law -- sometimes the law evolves in ways that are almost irrational. Because, in history, we had something called the presumption of paternity, which was that if a married woman gave birth to a child, her husband was presumed to be the father of that child and did not have to go to court to prove that he was the father of that child. So you had a presumption of something that was almost always true in terms of the biological reality.
SPRIGGNow that's been turned upside-down into this presumption of parentage, where if a person in a same-sex couple gives birth to a child, they want to presume what cannot possibly be true, which is that the same-sex spouse is also the parent of that child. So I think these evolutions in the law are not always in a positive direction.
ROSSI'm Melissa Ross, host of First Coast Connect, WJCT Public Broadcasting in Jacksonville, Fla., sitting in for Diane Rehm. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Emily Hecht-McGowan, you're familiar with a case of a gay couple who actually had to sneak a birth mother out of a hospital in Maryland. Tell us about that case.
HECHT-MCGOWANThis was years ago. The child is now a teenager. But two dads who had been selected by a birth mother to adopt their -- her child. The birth mother had gone into labor. She ended up at a religiously affiliated hospital -- actually in the town in which I live. And the adoptive dads arrived at the hospital about five or ten minutes after the birth and were allowed to see the child, were only given one bracelet, were only allowed to feed her one at a time. They were, you know, they were respected as parents but not as all parents would have been and then were notified by a nurse, who had overheard some other hospital staff talking about how they were going to intervene and make sure that this child was not handed over to the gay dads -- the gay couple.
HECHT-MCGOWANThey wanted to make sure that this child was put into foster care and perhaps placed with a different sex couple. So they snuck the birth mom out of the hospital, got her before a judge and had the judge issue an order of parentage so they could take the child.
ROSSAnd, as you said, it was some years ago.
HECHT-MCGOWANSeveral -- yes, this was several years ago.
SPRIGGWell, you know, I think that -- I want to come back to this issue of the religious providers, adoption providers and so forth. Because I think that if you force religious agencies to actually violate their religious principles with respect to this, the result will -- the long-term result will be fewer adoptive homes and fewer children being adopted. Because there are some adoptive parents who only -- who want to work with a religious provider. There may even be some birth mothers who want to place their child through a religious provider.
SPRIGGAnd so if these agencies are driven out of business, like Catholic Charities was in Massachusetts and in Illinois, then the result may well be that there are actually fewer placements available for the children who need them.
ROSSMichele Zavos, you don't agree?
ZAVOSNo, I don't agree. I'd certainly be interested to the statistics that Mr. Sprigg has access to. I don't agree because no one is forcing these agencies to do anything. They are voluntarily acting in the public sphere. If they don't want to treat everyone the same, they don't have to do this. And I think that we need to recognize that what is driving these kinds of agencies, frankly, is homophobia and hatred of gay people. I've represented thousands, thousands of gay couples and lesbian couples in adoption matters. And the case that Emily talked about was probably 15 years ago.
ZAVOSWhen I first started doing this work, in maybe 1994, we had social workers in Montgomery County who said that same-sex couples should not be allowed to adopt, solely because they were gay. And now we have Montgomery County granting those adoptions with no problem whatsoever.
ROSSAnd coming up, your calls and questions. We'll be right back.
ROSSAnd welcome back. I'm Melissa Ross, host of "First Coast Connect," WJCT Public Broadcasting in Jacksonville, Fla., sitting in for Diane Rehm. And as we continue the conversation on same-sex adoption rights, we're going to go now to your calls and questions. Let's go to Giana in Sarasota, Fla. Giana, you're on the air.
GIANAHi. Yeah, my comment was Mr. Sprigg had said something about giving preferential treatment even to same-sex couples over single couple or single adults or same-sex adults. And I'm an adopted mother of four kids. And, you know, according to adoptuskids.org, 20,000 children are aging out of foster care every year without ever being adopted. There's kids in group homes, and there's foster homes that are overflowing. And they have to get extensions to have more beds put in.
GIANASo there's no reason for -- if we can give -- excuse me, sorry. If you give his arguments any validity at all, just for the sake of argument, the bottom line is that you'd still have to have same-sex couples and single parents foster and adopt. Because there's not enough people for all these kids.
ROSSPeter Sprigg, what about that argument?
SPRIGGWell, I haven't seen the statistics. I don't know how many people are available of different family structures for this kind of thing. But I think that certainly it's naive to suppose that the solution to a shortage of foster care parents is same-sex couples, given that homosexuals are perhaps 2 percent of the population in the United States. It's not going to resolve the problem.
HECHT-MCGOWANThe Williams Institute is an organization out of the UCLA Law School, has varying data and research on this, and has estimated that there are potentially, and this is not to say that they will step forward to foster and adopt, but there are potentially about two million lesbian and gay people across the country who might consider fostering or adopting from the public system, but for laws, policies and practices that prevent them from doing so.
HECHT-MCGOWANAnd I would say to address your point earlier about social service providers shutting down and providing less services for children in care, there is no evidence that there has been any disruption in service in Illinois, in Massachusetts, in the District of Columbia, when Catholic charities decided on their own to withdraw doing those services from the public system. And the issue here we're dealing with is a lack of available homes for children, not the lack of service providers to give services to children.
ROSSMichele Zavos, do you agree?
ZAVOSYeah, I do agree with Emily. One of the things that I've seen over the years of my practice is that foster care systems are now reaching out to the gay and lesbian community, and are actually holding seminars with a group, say, like, Rainbow Families DC in the Washington area, to try and encourage people to become foster care parents.
ZAVOSAnd, you know, one part of what Peter Sprigg says I think is true in that there are not enough homes for these kids. And we should as a country be trying much, much harder to provide these children with stable homes. And, you know, the idea that gay and lesbian couples cannot provide those kinds of stable homes in a way, with attitudes like Mr. Sprigg and his organization, is part of what creates that.
SPRIGGWell, I would point out if we look at the broader picture, if more children were being raised in homes with their married mother and father, we would have fewer children going into foster care in the first place, because many of those children who end up in foster care are in broken homes -- are coming from broken homes or single parent households. So I think the long run, big picture interest is to encourage the maximum number of children being raised by their married mother and father.
ROSSAnd let's go now to James in Detroit, Mich. Hi, James. Good morning.
JAMESGood morning. Thanks for taking my call. To sort of piggyback on what Peter just said, he's right, exposing the kids and entering into foster care or adoption system is just a reflection of the breakdown of the home in America. And, look, I don't think anybody from the most homophobic person to the person on the opposite side, everyone is in agreement that if you have a child in a bad situation, it wouldn't matter if it was a gay couple or a pack of wolves who could provide environment for them, then, yes, put them there.
JAMESBut I think what Emily is not seeing is that, yes, we have had a Supreme Court decision within the last year or two, but that Supreme Court decision is going up against millions of years of human history. And you need to realize that we're the first era of people or culture of people in the history of recorded mankind to have, you know, to recognize, you know, legal marriage, to recognize homosexual marriage as being one with traditional heterosexual marriage. I don't think anyone ever thought that, you know, we would even be here, you know, you know, throughout even though history has repeated itself time and time again.
JAMESSo I think you need to give the country some time and understand that you all are moving -- when I say you all, meaning the gay movement or whatever it's labeled as, at light speed, you know. It takes years and a bunch of money to move something to the Supreme Court, and this case was moved up, you know, faster than anything, you know, probably in U.S. history.
ROSSJames in Detroit. Emily Hecht-McGowan, are these changes too rapid for some folks to digest?
HECHT-MCGOWANPerhaps. But the reality of it is, is that children have been raised by same-sex couples and gay and lesbian parents for decades. Again, the research has existed for decades. And these families have existed for longer. And when we're talking about let's just wait and see, we're talking about youth and care who have been waiting a long time for families to call their own. And when we're talking about youth and care who've been removed from their families of origin under sometimes very horrific circumstances, for us to sit back, ignore the research, ignore the science, ignore the child welfare professionals who've stated otherwise because some people in society are unsure about gay marriage. This is not a marriage issue.
HECHT-MCGOWANIt's an issue about children.
ZAVOSWell, you know, it's an interesting question, is it too quick? Is it too quick for who? It's certainly not too quick for the families who are raising these children, for the families who need legal protections for their children, for the couples who break up where one member of the couple has raised a child for ten years, and then all of a sudden because of how our law works, is now unable to maintain a legal relationship. And that is not about the parent. That is what is the message are we giving to that child in that family, that all of a sudden somebody who they have loved, who has taken care of them, all of a sudden is now considered a legal stranger.
ROSSLet's go now to Michael in Cleveland. Michael, good morning.
MICHAELGood morning. Good morning. How are you?
ROSSGreat, thank you.
MICHAELI'm a married white guy. My wife and I, we have three kids. One is quite a bit older that is from a previous relationship that I had. My ex-wife left. I fought for custody. I was a single dad for a number of years. And so the whole biological parent thing, you know, married people should stay together, raise their children is great for Peter to say. But the same point my 14-year-old daughter barely hears from her mother maybe once a month. So you can't go there and say biological parents are better.
MICHAELNow, I have a brother-in-law who's gay. And his boyfriend, they've been together for almost ten years. Are absolutely fantastic with my two younger kids who are both under the age of five. My younger kids love their uncles to death, and they're fantastic with them. They're actually in the process of, you know, looking for adoption. It really comes down to homophobia. I'm sorry, but it does. Because you can't sit there and say biological (unintelligible) if the bible says, you know, it's true, Joseph wasn't even Jesus' biological father.
SPRIGGYeah, well, that's true. I think that we have to be careful about not trying to make policy decisions based on individual anecdotes. Certainly there are gonna be heart-wrenching stories on both sides of the issue that people could point to. I haven't mentioned the Lisa Miller case where there was an attempt to force this woman who had been a biological -- been a lesbian relationship, to force her to share custody of her own biological child with a former partner that she did not want to do so, so...
ZAVOSCould I interrupt here? Because the facts that Peter is putting out are completely inaccurate and wrong. This was a case of two women who had a civil union in the state of Vermont. They had a child together by intention. They broke up. They got a custody order from the state of Vermont that both agreed to. Lisa Miller then moved back to Virginia, had an epiphany that she was no longer a lesbian and kept her ex-partner, the parent of her child, from seeing that child. That case has gone on for years and years.
SPRIGGThat was not the parent because she had never adopted that child. Never adopted that child.
ZAVOSIt was a civil union and there was a presumption...
ZAVOSI'm sorry, there was a court order from that.
ROSSBut where your paths diverge are the presumption Peter is holding is that there must be a biological tie to the child, am I correct, Peter, to assume parenthood? Is that where your paths diverge?
SPRIGGWell, I'm saying that there is significant evidence that children benefit from a relationship with their biological parents.
ZAVOSThere is not.
SPRIGGThere is. And the -- let me go back to this research. The research that the other two guests are referring to, Emily and Michele, the number of studies that purportedly support the idea that there is no harm or no difference are from research that has had very small sample sizes, very convenient samples. In other words, where they are nonrandom samples. Many of them from one single data set, multiple studies being done on one data set, this National Lesbian Family Study.
SPRIGGThe more recent research that has come out, including the Mark Regnerus study and more recent studies by Douglas Allen and Paul Sullins using much larger, much superior data sets have shown significant harms for children of same sex couples.
SPRIGGAnd they have not been discredited. It's simply false that these have been discredited.
ZAVOSActually they have. They have discredited all.
HECHT-MCGOWANThey have been discredited. Mark Regnerus' academic institution...
SPRIGGThey investigated if there was scientific misconduct, and found there was none.
ROSSLet Emily answer, please. Let Emily answer.
HECHT-MCGOWANThey repudiated his conclusions. Look, the Regnerus report, the Allen paper, both of them concluded that families that have been disrupted or have been destabilized in some way are harmful to children, that children do better -- do best when in a stable environment. The Regnerus study talked about -- did not talk about children raised by same-sex parents. There were two young people, two children of parents who had been raised by same-sex parents in that study. That study had a broad sample and it talked about a whole host of instability and different kinds of factors and had nothing to do with same-sex parenting, absolutely zero. And a court in Michigan litigated it fully.
ROSSLet me just jump in with an email question from John in San Antonio, Texas, as relates to the biological tie that a same-sex couple may have to a child. "If one woman provides the egg, and another woman carries an embryo to birth after it has been fertilized, are both women considered parents, and how does the state or do states treat a situation such as that?" Michele.
ZAVOSIt depends on the state, as many of these questions do. And actually there's a case out of California, there's another case out of Florida where exactly that happened. The women separated. The woman in the California case said that -- the one who gave birth said that she is the legal parents. The other woman who was the biological parent said, no. In the lower courts, the court looked at the contracts that were signed with the fertility center and found that the birth mother was the mother. That case went to the California Supreme Court. And I think in what was a truly magnificent decision said that both of the women were the legal parents.
ROSSAnd I'm Melissa Ross sitting in for Diane Rehm. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Tim in Phoenix, Ariz. Hi, Tim, good morning.
TIMGood morning. How are you?
ROSSGreat. Thank you.
TIMI love the discussion. My comment -- I apologize, I'm driving, so I didn't quite hear. Is it Michele?
ROSSI'm Melissa, but we have a guest in studio named Michele.
TIMOkay. This comment's for Michele. You're assertion that if we disagree with you, you're assertion is that we're either haters or that we're homophobes. And that's an illogical either or proposition, and frankly beneath someone of your intelligence and education.
ZAVOSWell, I'm not exactly sure what he's asking me, but the issue was in the context of religious exemptions and agencies who would not consider best interest of the child and automatically would exclude a whole host of potential parents solely because they were gay or lesbian.
ROSSWhat about the position of a caller like Tim though, Emily, people who might say they simply aren't comfortable, even though same-sex marriage is now the law of the land coast to coast, still just aren't comfortable with the idea of same-sex couples as parents?
HECHT-MCGOWANI would say that they don't have to be comfortable with it. We are talking -- again, when we're talking about youth in foster care, we're talking about the best interest of children, even if we're talking about children who are being raised by same-sex couples, that is having zero impact on somebody else's ability to live their life and pursue their own happiness. So we're talking about families that exist, families that now under the law have certain legal protections, and for youth and care for children who've sometimes been waiting multiple years to find stable families to love them, removing barriers that still exist to them finding those forever families.
ROSSAnd, Peter Sprigg, on the other hand, the trend lines on this issue do seem to be moving in the direction of the LGBT community, despite the patchwork that we see around the country. What about that in terms of the Family Research Council's position on this?
SPRIGGWell, you know, there are different trend lines depending on which particular issue you're looking at and so forth. It's interesting in the -- in the United States as we were debating same-sex marriage, that, I mean, Justice Kennedy, for example, used the existence of children raised by same-sex couples as an argument in favor of same-sex marriage. On the other hand, in Europe, there's, in France, for example, much greater alarm about the -- about marriage because it would lead to same-sex parenting.
SPRIGGSo I'm not sure I can tell you what the origin of those cultural differences are. But I will say to Michele that the concern of these religious providers, they have a doctrinal view that engaging in homosexual conduct is contrary to the will of God, is a sin, contrary to the teaching of scripture. That is the view of most Orthodox Christians. And so it is, as the caller said, I think it's demeaning to use slanderous terms like haters or homophobe for something that is a well-established doctrine of a large, major religion.
ROSSAlmost out of time. Michele Zavos, ten seconds. Do you see the Supreme Court eventually settling this issue?
ZAVOSProbably eventually, but I hope it's a long time from now.
ROSSThanks all three of you for a fascinating discussion. Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of public policy at the Family Equality Council, Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, and Michele Zavos, a managing partner and founder of Zavos, Juncker Law Group. I'm Melissa Ross, host of "First Coast Connect," WJCT Public Broadcasting in Jacksonville, Fla., sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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