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Gay adoption: A new take on the American family

By Taylor Gandossy
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- For 5-year-old Jackson Manford-Roach, Mother's Day means it's time to see his grandmothers.

"I don't need little lace gloves, which is what [Jackson and his classmates] made this year," Jeffrey Roach, one of Jackson's two fathers, said. "The other kids always ask who he's making the stuff for and he always makes his for his grandma."

Jackson is one of 65,000 adopted children being raised by same-sex parents in the United States, according to a March 2007 report compiled by the Urban Institute and the Williams Institute at University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

The same report estimates more than 14,100 foster children were living with one or more gay or lesbian foster parent.

Roach and his longtime partner, Ken Manford, adopted Jackson from Guatemala in 2001 and say he is not overly bothered by the non-traditional character of their family. (Audio slide show: One family's experience)

"We worry about it more than he does," Roach said, although the two fathers acknowledged that Jackson had been asking about "mom" lately.

"We're pretty upfront about it," Manford said. "You just ...say, 'If you had a mommy, then you wouldn't have two daddies. Is that what you want?' And he says, 'No I want two daddies and a mommy.'"

"Well, there's not a mommy, you've got grandma, and granny and Aunt Jennifer. And he'll say, 'OK.'"

Though denied the right to marry in every state except Massachusetts, more and more same-sex couples are turning to adoption and foster care to form families, according to child adoption groups who study the issue.

Rob Calhoun and his partner, Clay Calhoun, of Avondale Estates, Georgia, have two adopted children -- 4-year-old daughter Rainey and son, Jimmy, who is 18 months old. The children share the same biological mother.

"We're not moms, we're not heterosexual. We're not biological parents," Rob Calhoun said. But "we're totally equal and just as loving as female parents, as straight parents, and biological parents."

"Love makes a family, not biology or gender," he added.

Facing prejudice, legal hurdles

Enduring the time-consuming adoption or foster care process is harrying enough for heterosexual couples, but gays and lesbians face additional complications.

Many states do not have specific laws or court decisions on gay adoption or gay foster parenting, according to Paul Cattes, director of public education for the American Civil Liberties Union's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender project.

Eleven states and Washington, D.C. either implicitly or explicitly state that sexual orientation cannot legally prevent gay and lesbians from adopting, according to the Urban Institute report. (See the fact box to the left.)

Three states have laws denying gays and lesbians the right to adopt or take in foster children.

Though Mississippi allows single gays and lesbians to adopt, it prohibits same-sex couples from adopting. Utah excludes same-sex couples indirectly through a statute barring all unmarried couples from adopting or taking in foster children.

Florida is currently the only state that specifically bans "homosexual" individuals from adopting, although the state does allow them to be foster parents.

In the remaining 36 states, gays and lesbians who want to adopt or take in foster care children are at the mercy of judges and adoption and foster agencies, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a non-profit organization that studies adoption and foster care.

And although the institute says about 60 percent of all adoption agencies accept applications from gays and lesbians, they are often confronted with prejudice during the process.

Paula Prettyman's partner, Kelly Schlageter, used a sperm donor and gave birth to twin girls about six months ago. But Prettyman cannot adopt them because of a Virginia law that prohibits second-parent adoption unless the couple is married.

"In the minds of a lot of policymakers and politicians, I'm an unfit parent, but we spent tens of thousands of dollars and many years and many hours and a lot of emotional expense to bring these two beautiful girls into the world," Prettyman said. "And they are loved."

Others face opposition after being approved for adoption or foster care. For the Manford-Roach family, difficulties arose when they first tried to hyphenate Jackson's last name.

The judge overseeing the legal procedure in Dallas, Texas, crumpled up the paper and threw it over her shoulder when she realized they were a same-sex couple, Manford said.

"Get out of my courtroom, I would never do this for you," the judge said, according to Manford.

Americans divided

While it has not galvanized opposition as forcefully as the issue of same-sex marriage, polls show the American public is divided about gay and lesbian adoption.

According to a March 2006 Pew Research Center poll, 46 percent of Americans support gay and lesbian adoption, up from 38 percent in 1999. (Read how a new poll suggests even more Americans approve of adoption by same-sex couples)

Some opponents argue that gay or lesbian households suffer from not having both a mom and a dad.

"Love alone is not enough to guarantee healthy growth and development," James Dobson -- the head of Focus on the Family, a socially conservative organization -- wrote in a commentary for Time magazine in December 2006.

"The two most loving women in the world cannot provide a daddy for a little boy, any more than the two most loving men can be complete role models for a little girl."

But there are millions of single heterosexual mothers and fathers and foster parents, legally raising children across the country. Some find it hard to see how children of same-sex couples or single gay parents are somehow worse off.

"There is no credible social science evidence to support that gay parenting -- and by extension, gay adoptive parenting -- negatively affects the well-being of children," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

"It's quite clear that children do fine in homes led by gays and lesbians. That's a pretty basic bottom line."

Pertman says his organization is not particularly involved in gay and lesbian issues - they support gay and lesbian parenting because it "serves children's interests."

Several organizations -- the National Adoption Center, the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics -- also say that having gay and lesbian parents does not negatively affect children.

Other proponents, like Rob Woronoff of the Child Welfare League of America, argue shutting off adoption and foster care to gays and lesbians adversely affects children because it narrows the pool of potential parents.

"There's no rational reason to exclude someone [who clears the vetting process]," he said.

"Anyone who clears all of those hurdles ... should be able to have a child."


Clay Calhoun, left, and Rob Calhoun adopted Rainey and Jimmy.


Eleven states and Washington, D.C. either implicitly or explicitly state that sexual orientation cannot legally prevent gay and lesbians from adopting. The list of states includes:

California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Source: The Urban Institute

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