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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Illinois Lawmakers Seek to ’Blindside’ GLBT Families with Anti-Gay Amendment

David Koehler
David Koehler
By Kilian Melloy -

An amendment to an Illinois bill providing support for the blind seeks to exempt religious groups from existing anti-discrimination laws in what one blogger describes as a "blindsiding" of the GLBT community.

The amendment provides a blanket exemption from the law, which, Feast of warned in an April 11 posting, could have unintended consequences:

"So if the Catholic Charities adoption agency doesn’t think the sweet little white baby should be placed with the two black dads, they can say no, and there won’t be anything we can do about it," noted the blog. "Regardless of how qualified the two black dads are. Regardless of how much better it would be for that child with loving, capable parents than to sit and waste away in an orphanage or end up in the foster system."

The blog noted that the amendment was written by State Sen. David Koehler--who himself is the father of a lesbian daughter, Maggie Koehler, who now is able to access some protection for her same-sex partnership through the state’s newly granted civil unions.

The amendment to the so-called "White Cane Bill," SB 1123, actually amends the civil unions law, according to an ACLU news release.

"Since lesbian and gay male couples are denied the ability to marry and their marriages legally entered elsewhere are treated as civil unions, SB 1123 perpetuates a long history of discrimination towards lesbian and gay couples and reduces the pool of available foster and adoptive homes to children, in violation of the Due Process Fourteenth Amendment rights of wards of DCFS to be safe and adequately cared for as recognized in the B.H. Consent Decree," the ACLU release said.

"All of the leading child welfare organizations have recognized, based on years of rigorous scientific studies, that lesbian and gay parents are just as good at parenting as are heterosexual parents; there is no legitimate state interest served by taking potential loving families out of the pool of placements. As a result of this bill, the best placement--a child’s aunt or a skilled nurse or social worker who would welcome a child with special needs--may be rejected, simply because the prospective parent is lesbian or gay," the ACLU release continued.

"The federal equal protection clause bans the government from allowing private agencies to practice discrimination when choosing families for adoptive children," noted the release. "The obligation to license foster parents and to screen adoptive parents is the state’s. When the state delegates part of that duty to a private agency the state remains responsible to make certain that the process is consistent with state and federal law, including the 14th Amendment; religiously affiliated agencies should not be permitted to discriminate, especially when doing so can hurt children by excluding a whole class of loving families."

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) echoed the points raised by the ACLU in a media release that called for the state’s Republican legislators not to support the amendment.

"The amendment would exempt adoption agencies from the Illinois Human Rights Act, a law that prevents discrimination based on race, religion, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation," the HRC release said. "The amendment would also allow religious adoption agencies to refuse to place children with opposite-sex couples who have a civil union."

"With so many children in the foster care system who need a loving home, it is unfathomable that lawmakers would add an amendment to a bill limiting the number of families available to them," HRC Family Project Director Ellen Kahn said in the release.

"Child welfare experts agree that adoptive parents should be judged by their character and their ability to raise a child, not on their sexual orientation. The fact that lawmakers tried to hide this amendment within a bill that has nothing to do with adoption suggests that even they know it’s not in the best interest of Illinois’ children," Kahn added.

"The nation’s most reputable children’s health and welfare organizations agree on this issue," the HRC release noted. "The Child Welfare League of America, the nation’s oldest and largest child welfare organization, opposes restrictions on adoption by gays and lesbians and believes that applicants should be assessed on their ability to parent a child, not on their marital status or sexual orientation.

"The North American Council on Adoptable Children opposes laws and legislation that restrict the consideration of prospective foster and adoptive parents based on their sexual orientation," added the release. "The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization dedicated to the health and well-being of children, supports legislation that allows same sex couples to jointly adopt children. The American Psychological Association supports initiatives which allow same-sex couples to jointly adopt and co-parent children."

"It is our moral obligation to the children of Illinois and across the country to remove barriers to permanent families," Kahn said. "Years of research, public opinion, and the practice of child welfare conclude that these discriminatory laws are not in the best interest of the children. They simply delay or deny access to stable, loving homes and force kids to languish in the foster care system."

"Its ironic to get blindsided by a ’blind’ bill," opined the Feast of posting.

In an April 12 posting, The Bilerico Project condemned the manner in which the anti-gay language was surreptitiously included in the White Cane Bill amendment.

"I’ve seen the face of evil, and it is the cunning Illinois GOP. Hidden carefully by Sen David Koehler in SB 1123, a bill to assist the blind--like an arsenic pill hidden in a crême brulé--beneath text allowing for raises for County Clerks, the Conservatives waited until 5pm today, in the 11th hour of this bill before its Wednesday committee vote, to slide in amendments that seek to do everything possible to tear apart the lives of LGBT people in Illinois," wrote Phil Reese, who went on to write that "the bill would also dismantle the Human Rights Act in the most dastardly way."

Added Reese, "The GOP wants you out of the job if they don’t like the cut of your jib. This law that protects us from discrimination from our state-funded and regulated institutions was amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity in 2005, and the far right has been seething since. Now is their chance."

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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