With tens of thousands of children lingering in foster care across the United States, waiting for adoption, Illinois schoolteachers Kevin Neubert and Jim Gorey did their bit. What began with their offer to briefly care for a newborn foster child evolved within a few years into the adoption of that little boy and all four of his older siblings who also were in foster care.
The story of their two-dad, five-kid family exemplifies the potential for same-sex couples to help ease the perennial shortfall of adoptive homes for foster children. Yet, even as more gays and lesbians are adopting, there are efforts by state and federal politicians to protect faith-based adoption agencies that object to placing children in such families.
Sweeping new measures in Texas and South Dakota allow state-funded agencies to refuse to place children with unmarried or gay prospective parents because of religious objections. A bill passed last month in Alabama applies to agencies using private funds. A newly introduced bill in Congress would extend such provisions nationwide.
For those who support gay adoption, the entire phenomenon is very much a good news/bad news story. Gays and lesbians have ever-expanding opportunities to adopt, and a strong likelihood of finding community support if they do so. Yet bias against prospective gay adoptive parents remains pervasive, whether it's overt or subtle, and experts in the field believe that many thousands of gays and lesbians are dissuaded from adopting for fear of encountering such bias.
"Some of these agencies are quite clear that they don't work with certain sorts of people," said Currey Cook, who handles adoption and foster care issues for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal.
Some would-be gay adopters seek out other agencies, Cook said. "But some people think, 'I'm not going to risk being stigmatized and turned away, so I'm not going to step up at all.'"
There's no official, up-to-date count of gay and lesbian adoptive parents, but the number is on the rise.
Same-sex couples are nearly three times as likely to adopt as heterosexual couples, says Gary Gates, a specialist in LGBT demography. His latest analysis of Census Bureau data indicates that in 2015, the year that same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, there were 44,000 adopted children being raised by 28,000 same-sex couples. That number of children was double his estimate from 2013.
For some gays and lesbians, particularly those able to afford the $20,000 to $40,000 cost of a typical private adoption, the odds of success are good.
"If you have financial means, you can find providers who are welcoming and inclusive and help you through that process," said Ellen Kahn, who oversees youth and family programs for the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights group.
She says problems often arise when gays and lesbians seek the far less costly option of adopting out of foster care, given that many of the placements are handled by faith-based agencies under contract with child-welfare departments.
"We wouldn't have kids waiting if we had enough families seeking to adopt," Kahn said. "Yet the LGBT community is being pushed aside."
Kim Paglino, program director for the Donaldson Adoption Institute, says gays and lesbians can benefit from networking and careful research as they seek an agency to work with.
"It can take a while to find the right place," she said. "You have very clear messages from the agencies that are not interested in same-sex couples. Sometimes knowing where you shouldn't go is helpful."
Among the supportive agencies is Vermont-based Friends in Adoption. Its founder and director, Dawn Smith-Pliner, says she's heartened by the overall trends of LGBT adoption in the past decade, but now worries about a resurgence of "frantic phone calls" if, given recent political developments, more agencies feel emboldened to refuse placements with gays and lesbians.
"Do we have to go backward again before we go forward?" she asked.
Of the couples currently posting profiles on her agency's web site, expressing their yearning to adopt, about half are same-sex couples. Smith-Pliner says birth mothers are increasingly open to placing babies with such couples, once the agency raises it as an option.
Don Dupont and Brian Hiller, music teachers in New York's Westchester County who married in 2011, decided they would try to adopt, and turned to Friends in Adoption at the recommendation of friends. They posted their profile online, stressing their love of music and love for each other, and it struck a chord with a pregnant woman in California's Napa County who chose them to provide an adoptive home for her child.
Hiller and Dupont were on hand, and welcomed warmly, at a Catholic hospital in Napa County when their son, Brandon, was born in 2015. They have arranged an open adoption that's intended to include annual visits with Brandon's mother and her family in California.
As for their home turf in New York, "We've been fully embraced by every person we've met," Dupont said.
In Illinois, Kevin Neubert and Jim Gorey opted to pursue adoption out of foster care after calculating that a private adoption might be too costly.
Following night classes to qualify as foster parents, they agreed in December 2011 to provide a temporary home for a newborn baby. A stay intended to last only for a few days was extended into several months, and Neubert and Gorey learned that the baby had four older siblings who were also in foster care.
Initially, the two men thought about trying to adopt three of the children, and eventually decided to adopt all five, a process finalized in June 2014.
"Some people thought we were crazy, but everyone was supportive of keeping the kids together," Neubert said.
The youngest, Derek, is 5; the eldest, Luke, is 12. There are two other brothers, 10 and 7, and a middle sister aged 9.
Neubert and Gorey, who married in 2010 and live in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, said the family has enjoyed strong community support, though shopping trips could be a spectacle. "We didn't know if people were looking at us because we're two guys with kids, or because we had so many kids in tow," said Gorey.
The dads have coached their children on how to handle potentially awkward situations.
"If someone asks, 'Where's the mom?' Derek knows to say there are all different types of families, and in our family there are two dads, and no mom," Neubert said.
The path to adoption was bumpier for Dr. Christopher Harris, though by some measures he was an ideal candidate when he first pursued that goal 17 years ago in Nashville, Tennessee. He was a pediatrician and faculty member at Vanderbilt University, but he also was single and openly gay.
For more than a year, he worked with a church-affiliated adoption agency, taking parenting classes, submitting to home visits. Yet his application never progressed, and he finally deduced that it was because he was gay. He reached a similar dead end with a second agency, which took fees from him, and only later - when he pressed for an update - said it would not place children with single men.
"It was frustrating for me to get passed over," Harris said. "As a pediatrician, I look at the science and see there are no data that children raised by gay and lesbian parents don't do well."
He persisted, finally finding an agency that was able to connect him with a woman open to having her soon-to-be-born child adopted by a gay man. The baby, Maria, was born in November 2002, and adopted soon afterward by Harris.
Father and daughter now live in Los Angeles, where Maria has completed her first year of high school. During several summers, the two of them have attended a weeklong gathering of LGBT families on Cape Cod. "It's very good for me and my daughter to be around families like ours," Harris said.
Those annual events on Cape Cod are organized by the Family Equality Council, a national group that supports LGBT families.
The council's chief policy officer, Denise Brogan-Kator, went to Texas to testify against the adoption-related bill there and was distressed by its passage. "The bill is designed to allow agencies to turn qualified families away," she said.
There are more than 100,000 children in foster care in the U.S. waiting to be adopted, and child welfare officials constantly struggle to find enough qualified adoptive families. Some jurisdictions - such as New York City and Los Angeles - have stepped up efforts to recruit gays and lesbians to adopt, but agencies that shun gay clients operate in most states.
Buckner International, a large agency based in Texas, specifies on its web site that applicants seeking to adopt should be heterosexual married couples or single adults who are not cohabiting with a partner.
Catholic Charities, which does child-welfare work across the country, says it seeks to ensure that the children it places in adoptive homes "enjoy the advantage of having a mother and a father who are married. "
In some jurisdictions, authorities have said Catholic Charities must serve same-sex couples. Rather than comply, Catholic Charities shut down adoption services in Massachusetts, Illinois, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
While many faith-based agencies contend that children fare best in the home of a married father and mother, there's a growing body of research contending that children fare just as well in the homes of same-sex couples.
Initially, such research focused on lesbian couples. However, Charlotte Patterson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, said recent research suggests children adopted by gay male couples also are faring well. Indeed a 2014 study in Britain , led by University of Cambridge researchers, asserted that gay dads did better at parenting than lesbian and straight couples, likely because they faced more challenges en route to parenthood.
"It seems that those who successfully complete the adoption process become particularly committed parents," the researchers concluded.
Bethany Christian Services, which provides adoption and foster-care services in more than 30 states, says its religious principles preclude serving same-sex couples directly, but it has established procedures for referring them to LGBT-supportive agencies.
"When we meet with them, we're very respectful," said Bethany's president, Bill Blacquiere. "We want them to have all the rights any citizen has, including the right to be adoptive or foster parents."
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