Ending Discrimination against LGBT Families: Parents and Children in the Adoption and Foster Care System

Updated August 31, 2011

Our Position

Successful parenting is not dependent on sexual orientation or gender identity. Laws and policies that discriminate against otherwise qualified LGBT parents are failing the half million children in the foster care system, 120,000 of whom are eligible for adoption. We should be giving these children more places to turn, instead of needlessly and cruelly closing the door to safe, loving homes. They deserve care and permanency with their best interests at heart, not placements that forsake them for ideology or political gain.

Talking Points

Federal and most state adoption and foster care laws leave LGBT Americans unprotected. Some even actively discriminate against these otherwise qualified parents. Most states do not have policies in place to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination in the adoption and foster care system, which opens the door not only to institutional biases, but also to the biases of individual agencies and cases workers. A March 2006 Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute study found that nearly one-third of child welfare agencies in the US reject gay, lesbian, and bisexual applicants. Some states effectively or even expressly ban their participation in adoptions and foster care.

Banning LGBT adoption has no place in American jurisprudence. The tide is turning, but more progress must be made. Florida’s ban on LGBT adoption was declared unconstitutional by a state appellate court in September 2010. Likewise, the State Supreme Court found Arkansas’s ban on adoption by unmarried partners unconstitutional. And though there is no longer a categorical ban in Arizona, placement agencies are allowed by law to give preference to a married man and woman.

Being LGBT doesn’t determine one’s ability to raise a child. More than thirty years of scientific evidence has shown that children raised by LGBT parents have the same advantages and the same expectations for health, social and psychological adjustment, and development as children raised by heterosexual parents. For instance, a November/December 2004 Child Development study confirmed no difference in psychosocial adjustment, self-esteem, depression, anxiety, or school performance between children raised by female same-sex couples and children raised by heterosexual couples. The children in the same-sex households actually had greater school involvement.

LGBT parents are already raising children, and more would join them if legal and political barriers were eliminated. There are already approximately one million LGBT couples in the US raising approximately two million children. In 2007, this amounted to 4% of adoptions and 3% of the foster care system. That same year, an Urban Institute/Williams Institute study conservatively estimated that two million gays, lesbians, and bisexuals would be interested in adopting but for discriminatory policies and practices. We could greatly increase the pool of prospective parents if these barriers were eliminated.

LGBT youth also experience discrimination, harassment, and violence in the foster care and adoption system. According to the American Bar Association's 2008 guidebook for child-welfare lawyers and judges, almost all LGBT children in group homes had reported verbal harassment. 70% had experienced violence, and 78% had either been removed from a foster home or run away for reasons associated with their LGBT status.

Both Americans overall and medical, psychological, legal, and child welfare professionals in particular recognize the problem and support congressional action. According to a May 2011 Public Religion Research Institute poll, 56% of Americans support allowing LGBT individuals to adopt children. In the professional community, LGBT foster care and adoption allies include the American Psychological Association, American Bar Association, American Medical Association, and Child Welfare League of America, among many others.

Eliminating discrimination against LGBT foster care and adoptions makes good fiscal sense. If discriminatory barriers for LGBT and unmarried parents were eliminated, approximately 1,000 additional children would be adopted each year resulting in a total annual savings for the federal government of nearly $17 million. Moreover, it costs a lot to discriminate. A categorical ban by the states and the federal government could run a tab as high as $3-6 billion. The numbers don’t account for costs incurred when youth age out of foster care without a safety net: the costs of incarceration, drop-out, early parenthood, substance abuse, and homelessness.


The Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R. 1681) would withhold a portion of federal funding from entities that discriminate in adoption and foster care placements based on the LGBT or marital status of prospective parents, or the LGBT status of the children involved. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would provide technical assistance to all affected entities. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) would study compliance with the law and any continued discrimination.


Contact your Representative and Senators and tell them that all qualified LGBT and unmarried Americans should be able to foster or adopt without facing discriminatory barriers. Let them know that discrimination is also a burden imposed on foster and adoptive youths, when what they really deserve are safe and loving homes, just like any child in need. Urge them to support the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining that eliminating discrimination in foster and adoption placements will increase the number of loving, safe, and permanent homes, thereby decreasing the number of youths at risk for poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and early parenthood.

Further Reading

American Civil Liberties Union
Family Equality Council
Human Rights Campaign
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Black Justice Coalition
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

Fact Sheet (PDF)51.53 KB
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