Adoption is one of the primary ways that LGBT parents create families, whether through the public foster care system, a private agency, or simply a second-parent adoption of a partner or spouse’s child. However, in most places across the country LGBT individuals and couples face barriers to adoption, making it difficult or sometimes impossible for these loving, qualified people to create families.

Family Equality Council works at the federal, state, and local level to remove these existing barriers by defeating legislation, policies, and practices that restrict LGBT parenting; promoting and passing new laws that promote LGBT parenting such as second parent adoption; and promoting policies and practices that are inclusive of LGBT parents.

Landscape of State and Federal Laws:

With few exceptions, family law is administered at the state level. Currently, there is no federal standard that either provides LGBT people or same-sex couples with the ability to adopt, or prohibits states from discriminating against LGBT people and same-sex couples in foster care and adoptive placements. The lack of federal nondiscrimination protections combined with the patchwork of state laws creates a very uncertain landscape for prospective parents who happen to be LGBT.

  • Joint Adoption: 18 states and the District of Columbia all same-sex couples to jointly adopt.  The remaining states are silent on joint adoption by same-sex couples.

  • Second-Parent Adoption: 20 states allow an LGBT parent to petition for second-parent adoption. 

  • Step-Parent Adoption: LGBT parents can petition for step-parent adoption in 16 states and the District of Columbia.

  • Nondiscrimination: 7 states prohibit discrimination in adoption on the basis of the potential parents’ sexual orientation. Two of these states also prohibit discrimination in adoption on the basis of gender identity.  Eight states prohibit discrimination foster care in on the basis of the potential parents’ sexual orientation.

  • Anti-Family Legislation: Five states explicitly prohibit same-sex couples from jointly adopting (Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Michigan). Six states affirmatively restrict same-sex couples from accessing second-parent adoption (Utah, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina). Two states restrict fostering by LGBT parents (Utah, Nebraska). Virginia allows private agencies receiving state funds to refuse to serve families or children for any religious objection.

Our Federal Work:

Every Child Deserves a Family Act: The Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDF) focuses attention on the best interests of children in the foster care system. By eliminating state laws, policies, practices and procedures that exclude potential adoptive and foster parents because of their marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, this bill will dramatically increase access to permanent, loving homes for children in foster care.

ECDF Coalition: ECDF is supported by a coalition of over 90 organizations, representing the child welfare community, traditional civil rights organizations, faith communities, and the LGBT community.

Our State Work:

We advocate for state legislation that supports the ability of LGBT people to create healthy, happy families.  We oppose any legislation that seeks to restrict the ability of LGBT people to create families, to secure legal relationships with their children or restrict the ability for foster children to find safe and loving homes.

Virginia: We strongly supported proposed regulations that would have prohibited discrimination in foster and adoptive placements in Virginia and worked closely with statewide coalition of organizations to educate the Virginia Board of Social Services as to why the nondiscrimination regulations were necessary. Unfortunately, the Board rejected the proposed regulations and shortly thereafter, the Virginia legislature passed a bill allowing publically-funded private agencies to refuse to place a child with a prospective parent if such a placement would violate the organization’s moral or religious views. The Williams Institute released a report stating that the so-called "conscience clause" will cause more children to be placed into State care and fewer children to be adopted, costing the State approximately $30,000 per child remaining in care.

Louisiana: When fathers Oren Adar and Mickey Smith adopted their Louisiana-born child in New York, they were told by the Louisiana State registrar that she would not issue a new birth certificate with both of their names on it.  Family Equality Council joined several child-welfare organizations filing an amicus brief in support of fathers, after the Louisiana Attorney General sided with the State registrar.  A federal district court ruled that the registrar must issue the correct birth certificate and a 3-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, but on rehearing by the full Firth Circuit, the decision was reversed, denying the child an accurate birth certificate.    

Illinois: In 2011, Illinois passed a comprehensive civil unions bill grating relationship recognition for same-sex couples.  Catholic Charities argued that they should be exempt from the non-discrimination provisions in the law that would require them to provide adoption and foster care services to same-sex couples in the State.  The State of Illinois denied Catholic Charities’ request for an exemption and, due to the organization’s failure to comply with the new state law, refused to renew state foster care and adoptive services contracts with Catholic Charities.  Catholic Charities sued the State to reinstate the contracts, but lost and eventually dropped their suit. 

Arizona: In 2011, Arizona passed a law that gives preference to “a married man and woman” in public foster care and adoption placements. The law requires child welfare agencies to give preference to married couples over all other qualified applicants.  Same-sex couples cannot foster or adopt in Arizona, but this bill goes far beyond the intended consequences of restricting adoption by LGBT people, preventing single people and other unmarried couples from stepping forward to adopt from the public system. 

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