It's not called Lavender Law anymore, but I can't help myself. (Sixth Ave will never be Avenue of the Americas to me...). Its official name is the National LGBT Bar Association Career Fair & Conference, but by any name this is the annual gathering of LGBT lawyers, law students, and law profs (and some straight advocates who work on our issues). This year's conference is taking place in Brooklyn.
Today I attended a session on "The New Adoption and Foster Care Battle: Cohabitation Bans." Law professor Carlos Ball started off with the history of bans on adoption or foster parenting by lesbians, gay men, or same-sex couples. The first such ban in 1977 (Florida...hopefully on its way out) predated by more than 20 years the first ban on adoption or foster parenting by anyone living with an unmarried partner -- gay or straight (Utah...not on its way out).
Kara Suffredini of Family Equality Council then described recent efforts - largely unsuccessful - to legislate such cohabitation bans. In Tennessee in 2008, for example, the state budget office reported that instituting such a ban would cost the state millions of dollars, given the additional children who would remain in state care. That stopped the bill dead in its tracks. Naomi Goldberg of the Williams Institute followed with the economic analysis she and Lee Badgett performed for Kentucky. Based on the census data on the number of same-sex and unmarried different-sex couples with adopted or foster children in the state, and the current number of children in the foster care system (7027), Williams Institute predicted 630 children would not get foster home placements -- thereby requiring more expensive and less desirable institutional placements, and 85 children would not be adopted and would therefore remain in state care. The projected cost: $5.3 million. That bill never got out of committee. (The Williams Institute also reports that if Florida drops its ban on gay adoptions, the state will save $3.4 million in its first year). Of course no one can quantify the human cost to the children who remain in group care or never get permanent families.
Finally, Leslie Cooper, ACLU's litigator extraordinaire, discussed the litigation challenging the initiative enacted in Arkansas last year that also bans anyone living with a gay or straight unmarried partner from adopting or fostering. (And a gay married couple doesn't count because Arkansas does not recognize them as married.) The state is defending the ban by pointing to the poorer outcomes for children raised by cohabiting different sex couples as compared with married different sex couples. It's a regurgitation of the right-wing marriage movement's basic argument that all our social problems result from the decline of life-long heterosexual marriage. The ACLU knows the drill and is well-equipped to respond. The case is currently in the discovery stage.
It's a matter of some fascination to me that the right wing has decided that it is easier to defend a foster care/adoption ban on cohabiting couples, gay and straight, than a ban limited to gay men and lesbians. Although Florida is defending its gay ban with every discredited argument in the book (for the details, and the meticulous responses by the ACLU, check out this website), the right is capitalizing on the same ideology that gets us federally funded "marriage promotion" when it argues that unmarried couples should not foster or adopt. The panelists agreed that the real target of these bans is...gay men and lesbians; that although proponents no doubt believe that unmarried straight couples should be discouraged from raising children, the ban is primarily a means to the end of banning gay adoption without having to defend such a ban directly.