Frankfort, KY – The end of this year's Kentucky General Assembly session is fast approaching, & many bills will remain in limbo due to time constraints in the house and senate. One such proposed piece of legislation that had a promising and unanimous start in a Senate committee is Senate Bill 68, also known as the Child Welfare Adoption Act. It would bar unmarried cohabitating couples from adopting children. Many human rights activists think the bill is an underhanded attack on homosexual couples, who are barred from marrying. Social conservatives assert that married couples provide the best home for children. Carrie Pond reports on a growing unconventional family that, regardless of legislation, will find a way to continue caring for its adopted children.
I find it very hard to believe that anyone could come and spend time with our family and not see that it was a good thing."
Paul Barnes and his partner Adam married 10 years ago in Hopkinsville's Unitarian Universalist church. Both men had always wanted children. About two years into exploring different choices, a fellow church member asked them to consider becoming foster parents. Less than five years later, the couple has cared for around eight children, adopting two sons, Coleman- now 19- and Justin- now 15. When he came to them 4 years ago, Barnes says Coleman had been in the system from age 5.
"And when you meet and get to know somebody, you're like, 'How can they just keep shipping him around?' So you just want to be there for them and you want to love them and take care of them and teach them and guide them and do the best you can. So that's what we've done."
After living with them for a few months, Coleman asked the Barneses to consider adopting him, which they more than happily obliged. Barnes says because the couple can't adopt Coleman jointly in Kentucky, Paul has legally adopted him. Around that time, they also adopted 12-year-old Justin. Barnes says they would still consider adopting more children, which is why SB 68 alarmed them so much. Shortly after it was introduced bill opponent, Senator Kathy Stein, enlisted the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy to produce a cost estimate for the bill.
[NAOMI] "The number of potential families who could serve as adoptive families or foster families is essentially being reduced."
Naomi Goldberg co-authored the report. She says the ban will cost the state over 5 point 3 million dollars during the first year of implementation and that's a conservative estimate. That figure includes the cost of training and recruiting new foster and adoptive families to replace people like Paul and Adam Barnes. It also accounts for the increased financial burden of placing children in group homes which are far more expensive to the state than in-home foster care programs. Goldberg says the report can't cover everything, though.
"How much is it going to cost to have kids moving in and out of the legal system? How much is it going to cost to move a child? Administrative costs, the social worker's time. So those are things that we just can't quantify but it's worth mentioning that those are costs that are going to be incurred as a result of something like this passing."
Goldberg says what caught her attention is what she calls the human costs of the bill about 630 foster children would be removed from current foster homes.
"For me what was really compelling about this and really sad, is thinking about where are those children going to go and what will be the outcomes of those children as a result of something like this?"
Bill sponsor, Senator Gary Tapp, declined to be interviewed, but he has told the Lexington Herald Leader he doubts the bill would cost the state as much as Goldberg claims because he would grandfather-in existing foster homes with unwed parents. He also dismisses charges that the bill is discriminatory, saying numerous studies show that children raised by stable, married parents do better than those who are not. Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with the Family Foundation of Kentucky, agrees.
"Our family courts are filled with cases of situations where we're having to take children out homes like that. So this just basically says you can't place a child for foster care or adoption in a home that's potentially dangerous."
The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has issued a statement against the bill, saying it individually assesses the appropriateness of each foster or adoptive parent before placement, and the measure would be detrimental to the Cabinet's placement efforts. Paul Barnes says even if a married heterosexual could provide an ideal home, that's not enough to bar others from adopting.
"I don't live in an ideal world and none of the kids that we foster live in an ideal world and I know that kids that have nothing would rather have a single parent than no parent. And in our house we don't actually consider ourselves single."
He says the bill is discriminatory because gays who are prohibited from getting married in Kentucky aren't given the option of changing their martial status.
"In our eyes, and we believe in God's eyes we are married. And our children have two parents. It's just unfortunate that the state of Kentucky doesn't recognize that."
Naomi Goldberg says a bill in Florida prohibiting gays from adopting was recently deemed unconstitutional, and the "unmarried individuals" language is a new twist on an old movement.
The marriage issue is kind of flat in many of these states, and so this is the new thing. It passed in Arkansas and everyone now is like, "okay" on the right "this is something that can get through."
At least for now, it appears the bill won't get through though it was unanimously approved in committee, it has yet to take the senate floor. But Senator Gary Tapp tells the Courier Journal he plans to bring it back next year. Until then, parents like Paul and Adam Barnes are considering whether or not to expand their families, wondering when or if the state will make that choice for them.