Kansas panel considers whether same-sex couples should be foster parents

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislative committee’s chairman raised questions Nov. 17 about whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve as foster parents for abused and neglected children.

Testimony in front of the joint Special Committee on Foster Care Adequacy touched on “family structure considerations” in placing children in foster care. It came from several sources – a sociology professor and Roman Catholic priest who published a recent study suggesting that children with same-sex parents fare worse than children in traditional, two-parent families, as well as an official of the American Psychological Association who said there’s no valid reason to discriminate against gays and lesbians in making foster care placements.

Kansas has long allowed gays and lesbians to serve as foster parents and adopt children as individuals. Phyllis Gilmore, the state’s secretary for children and families, said there’s also no barrier for legally married gay and lesbian couples, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation.

Gilmore said those policies aren’t being reconsidered as the Department for Children and Families reviews foster care regulations. The agency doesn’t track know many foster parents are gay or lesbian.

Republican State Sen. Forrest Knox scheduled the testimony as part of a daylong review of foster care issues, because “we all know” that a family’s structure affects children’s well-being, and it doesn’t appear to be a consideration in determining whether individuals or couples are qualified to be foster parents.

“My point is that the committee should consider whether that ought to be an issue at all in terms of the state selecting foster parents that meet the needs of kids,” said Knox, a father of 13 children.

Knox said he planned to revise and pursue a measure he introduced earlier this year to provide financial incentives for couples in traditional marriages to act as foster parents if they meet certain requirements, including not using alcohol or tobacco at home. But the committee didn’t make any formal recommendations for lawmakers to pursue in the 2016 session.

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, said raising such questions is “reprehensible.”

“When I hear people talk about how gay and lesbian parents shouldn’t be raising kids, I find it deeply offensive in every way possible,” said Witt, who is a father.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has been a strong opponent of gay marriage and a vocal critic of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, which prevents Kansas from enforcing the voter-approved ban on gay marriage in its state constitution, a provision many Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature supported.

“It’s too bad that these children have become the subject of political correctness instead of looking at the scientific evidence,” Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican who opposes gay marriage.

Religious conservatives have long argued that children have fewer problems in traditional, two-parent families. The Rev. Donald Paul Sullins, an associate sociology professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C, spoke at the hearing about a study he published this year that said the children of same-sex couples have more emotional problems than children with opposite-sex parents.

But major U.S. medical and mental health groups, including the American Psychological Association, have concluded no credible study shows children are at a disadvantage if they have same-sex parents.

Clinton Anderson, the director of the APA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns Office, told the committee that factors such as economic resources and the quality of family relationships are far more important.

Democratic state Rep. Annie Tietze, of Topeka, said, “I’m real concerned that the way this is headed will be to not allow same-sex parents to have foster care rights.”

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