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Texas Might Ban Gay Foster Parenting

Times Staff Writer

Texas lawmakers are considering legislation that could make this the only state to ban gays and lesbians from being foster parents.

Conservatives have pledged to fight for the measure, part of a bill to revamp the state’s Child Protective Services agency, despite concerns that as many as 3,000 children could be removed from their homes.

The proposal surfaced this week as an amendment offered by state Rep. Robert Talton, a Republican from this largely industrial city southeast of Houston. The House approved it Tuesday on an 81-58 vote. The bill will go to a conference committee, because the Senate version does not contain the foster parent provision.

Talton said his proposal was necessary to protect traditional families.

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“It is my belief that the vast majority of Texans share my concerns regarding the placement of our most vulnerable children in less than ideal circumstances,” he said in a statement. Talton declined to discuss the issue further.

The measure would require the state to ask prospective foster parents whether they are gay. If the answer is yes, that person would not be considered an eligible caregiver. Foster children who live with gay parents would be placed in new homes.

Eva Thibaudeau, 30, a Houston social worker, and her partner, 30-year-old Christina Rodriguez, have cared for 80 foster children in the last eight years. And they adopted four of them: an 11-year-old boy, a 9-year-old boy and 2-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

Thibaudeau is a board member of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. She said she learned of the proposal this week from the group’s organizers in Austin.

“I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me,” she said. “This is being driven by misinformation, a lack of education and homophobia. It certainly isn’t being driven by the best interest of children.”

The measure would allow the government to conduct investigations to determine whether prospective and current foster parents were being truthful about their sexual orientations.

Mike Gross, vice president of the Texas State Employees Union, called the provision an “outrageous breach of civil rights and privacy rights.”

Even some people who otherwise support the bill said they were troubled by the provision. Cathie Adams -- president of the Texas Eagle Forum in Dallas, a conservative political action group -- called it a concern.

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“But being in a homosexual home is a traumatic situation,” she said. “The bigger focus here is on the future.”

Texas has about 28,000 children in its foster care system, and has struggled in recent years to find homes for them.

State officials were scrambling Thursday to determine the practical implications of the measure -- the number of children who would be affected and the cost of having a private agency find them new homes.

It has been difficult to come up with solid figures, officials said, because the state does not ask foster parents about their sexual orientation now. Preliminary estimates suggest that the measure could cost the state more than $8 million and affect from 1,000 to 3,000 children.

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If the law were to pass, Texas would be the only state to bar gays from being foster parents. A judge threw out a similar measure in Arkansas last year after determining that it was unconstitutional.

Activists on both sides of the issue said Thursday that they saw the Texas measure as a test case.

“We think it’s long overdue,” said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an arm of Concerned Women for America, a conservative public-policy organization. “This is about the need for a child for both a mother and a father, and placing that standard into law,” Knight said.

The American Psychiatric Assn. concluded in a 2002 study that children raised by gays or lesbians “exhibit the same level of emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functioning as children raised by heterosexual parents.”

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“These are not laws intended to protect children,” said Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist on the APA’s committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues.

“These are laws intended to condemn homosexuality. The kids are the pawns.”

Adams called the APA’s statement a political position.

Knight also called into question the APA’s data. He cited what he said were numerous flaws, such as small sample sizes. He said other research suggested that children raised by gays or lesbians either become gay or experiment with sex earlier than other children. But those studies, he said, have been overlooked by what he called pro-gay researchers.

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Thibaudeau said she sat down with two of her children to explain the debate.

“My oldest son’s reaction was: ‘Mom, that’s horrible. If that were a law when I was in foster care, you couldn’t have been my mom.’ I said: ‘Well, that’s true,’ ” Thibaudeau said.

“My 9-year-old has a less concrete understanding of these things. He said: ‘Are they going to take us away?’ I said: ‘No, sweetheart, no one is coming to take you away.’ ”


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