As the three-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges nears, two more states have passed legislation allowing taxpayer-funded child welfare organizations to discriminate against prospective families. A new report shows that these state laws are just the tip of the iceberg, and outlines how stigma, discrimination, and systematic attempts to undermine marriage equality harm the estimated 300,000 children raised by same-sex couples and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) parents.
Coauthored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and the Family Equality Council, Putting Children at Risk: How Efforts to Undermine Marriage Equality Harm Children examines two overarching strategies to undermine marriage for same-sex couples and protections for LGBT parents, and shows how these coordinated efforts pose a profound threat to the children in LGBT families. First, some government officials, state legislators, and courts have refused to fully recognize the marriages of same-sex couples and their relationship with their children. Second, there is an increase in individuals, businesses, child welfare providers, healthcare providers, government contractors, and even government employees claiming they have a right to discriminate not just against LGBT people, but also against the children of LGBT people, because of their religious beliefs. These license to discriminate efforts are reflected in legislation, court cases, and agency guidance around the country.
Just this year, two states – Oklahoma and Kansas – have passed laws allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against adopting families, leaving the nation’s most vulnerable children with fewer prospective families. And later this month, the Supreme Court is expected to rule in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which has the potential to undo decades of nondiscrimination laws by allowing businesses to pick and choose which customers to serve. For children raised by LGBT parents in particular, the stakes are high. A same-sex couple could be refused pregnancy and birth healthcare services, a child with two mothers could be denied entrance to their local preschool, a child could be refused critical medical treatment because she was denied an accurate birth certificate listing both parents, or a qualified, loving same-sex couple could be rejected from fostering a child in need. In fact, as outlined in the report, all of these scenarios have already happened.
“It’s a sad day when laws prioritize politics over the well-being of children,” said Ineke Mushovic, MAP executive director. “Instead, we’re seeing a focus on laws that allow doctors to refuse to treat infants if they disapprove of the parents, that allow childcare facilities to discriminate against and kick out toddlers, and that would rather see kids move from foster home to foster home than be permanently placed with a loving, qualified same-sex couple.”
Exemptions to nondiscrimination laws are often targeted at LGBT people, but may have wider-ranging impacts. For example, child services agencies have not only refused to allow same-sex couples to adopt, but a Catholic adoption agency in South Carolina recently refused to work with prospective parents who were Jewish.
“Child welfare agencies should put kids first, always. But these kinds of harmful laws give child services workers a license to discriminate and deny children the loving, forever homes they need,” said Denise Brogan-Kator, Chief Policy Officer of the Family Equality Council.
The report also highlights the states that have refused to fully recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, as well as the legal ties between those parents and their children, including failing to issue accurate birth certificates to children born to same-sex couples or denying recognition to a same-sex parent as a parent in a custody dispute. By refusing to recognize these marriages, opponents of LGBT equality are actively trying to deny same-sex couples the rights and protections that flow from marriage, making it harder for LGBT parents to ensure their children get the care and security they need.