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Adoption Proposal Sparks Sharp Debate

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gay and lesbian representatives sharply clashed with the religious right on Thursday during a hearing on the Wilson administration’s proposal to prevent adoptions by unmarried couples.

Jon W. Davidson, supervising attorney for Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund Inc., the nation’s oldest and largest lesbian and gay rights legal issues organization, attacked the plan as an attempt to keep gays and lesbians from becoming adoptive parents.

“These new proposals are unnecessary,” Davidson said, “and are based on prejudice and animus toward lesbian and gay men and women. The guiding force should be the best interests of the child.”

But the Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, a national organization of 32,000 churches, said now isn’t the time to “push the [social] envelope but to restore the primacy of marriage within the law and culture.”

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“The best environment is one with a married man and woman,” Sheldon said. “When [children] see father committed with the paycheck. When they see mother committed with the grocery list. When they see these things, they are learning the socialization process. They are learning responsibility.”

Sheldon and Davidson spoke at a state Department of Social Services hearing in Santa Ana to review the Wilson administration proposed regulation changes.

Since 1987, regulations have made adoption agencies declare to the courts that a proposed adoption resulting “in a child’s having parents who are not legally married to each other is not in the best interest of the child.”

Now, the governor seeks to strengthen the existing policy against any legal challenge, said Janice Ploeger Glaab, chief of public affairs for the state Health and Welfare Agency.

She denied the effort is politically motivated and added that the policy is designed to prevent unmarried couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual, from adopting.

If approved by the agency--of which the Department of Social Services is part--the proposals would take effect in October 1997.

Of 18 speakers at the hearing, Sheldon was one of only two who favored the proposed regulations. Many who testified were from Southern California’s gay and lesbian communities and opposed the regulations, saying they discriminate and ignore unmarried couples’ ability to foster a loving home environment.

Sara Berman of Los Angeles, who spoke on behalf of the California Assn. of Adoption Agencies, a group of about 40 licensed agencies, said it was wrong to focus on restrictions.

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“These children are not sitting in their foster homes saying, ‘Only give me a married family,’ ” Berman said. “I know a case with one child who is 8 years old. He has been living with a couple who has been together but not married for years. He loves that environment. He does not want to move out into another family situation. He is truly loved and wanted.”

For Kay Smith, who said she has been in public social work 26 years but was speaking as a private citizen, finding married couples to adopt was not a guarantee of a successful adoption.

“The bulk of child abuses and child neglect,” Smith claimed, “occur in heterosexual marriages. We should be encouraging all available couples who want to adopt to do so.”

She said it was “foolhardy and naive” to limit adoption practices when there is a huge need to find adoption parents for African American children, children with special needs, and HIV newborns.

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