Louisiana House committee rejects gay adoption bill

Advocates say state’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples will fall in the courts eventually

Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — A House committee has rejected a New Orleans lawmaker’s bill that would allow two unmarried, same-sex adults to adopt a child together.

Democrat Helena Moreno said that public opinion has warmed to the idea of gay adoption since the bill failed last year, but the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee disagreed and shelved the proposal Monday, May 23.

Louisiana law allows for adoption by a legal relative, but the House bill would add “second parents” to the list of people who can petition for such adoptions. The bill doesn’t specify whether the second parent would be male or female, so it would allow both members of a same-sex couple to adopt a child for the first time.

Currently, if a same-sex couple in Louisiana adopts a child, only one parent can be recognized as the legal guardian. Lesbian mothers at the hearing testified that their children face the risk of not having both parents recognized in the event of a divorce, the death of the primary guardian or a medical emergency involving the child.

“This really is something that’s in the best interest of a child, to have two parents and two names on the adoption papers,” said Moreno.

New Orleans City Councilman Arnie Fielkow testified in support of the bill, arguing that children need a loving home, regardless of the parents’ sexual orientation.

“We have so many kids out there that are in foster care, that are in orphanages here in the United States and around the world, that simply do not have parents, do not have people around them that can love them, support them and sustain them,” said Fielkow.

He said that current adoption law doesn’t recognize that concepts of a “traditional family” are outdated, and that expanding the ability of parents to adopt would be compassionate.

But Rob Tasman, assistant director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, says the church doesn’t sanction adoption to unmarried couples, homosexual or heterosexual.

“The best interest of the child extends beyond purely the physical and the material, and what it also pulls in is the spiritual and the moral,” said Tasman.

And Gene Mills, who leads the conservative Louisiana Family Forum, said the bill would go against a 2004 amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as between one woman and one man.

“We think it’s fraught with the possibility of instability in the life of the child, and would respectfully request that you vote no,” said Mills.

Rep. John Schroder, a Republican, proposed to defer the bill. No committee members objected.

Marjorie Esman, who leads the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the courts will likely overturn the state’s prohibition against gay parents adopting if the legislature doesn’t take action.

“What is happening nationwide is that as these discriminatory laws are challenged, they are falling,” said Esman. She said that courts are striking bans down in order to protect children, but she said there isn’t currently any active litigation that could overturn Louisiana’s law.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a related issue in April.

A gay couple who wanted both their names to appear on the birth certificate of the Louisiana child they adopted in New York has lost their latest round in federal court.

In Louisiana, adopted children get new birth certificates with their new parents’ names on them, but the state contends that putting both men’s names on the birth certificate would violate the state ban against adoption by unmarried couples.

The court said that a Louisiana registrar’s insistence that only one father’s name can go on the certificate does not violate the child’s right to equal protection under the law; nor does it deny legal recognition of the New York adoption by both men.

Lambda Legal, which represented the petitioners, was not immediately available for comment on whether the case will be appealed.

—  John Wright

Former Dallasite helps form Brownsville PFLAG chapter

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Brownsville became the 17th city in Texas with a Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays chapter on Monday, Jan. 3 when about 35 people attended the new group’s first meeting.

Brownsville City Commissioner Melissa Zamora was among those attending. She said she was there as an ally, invited by the group’s president, Yolanda Speece.

“The communication was amazing. There was lots of talk about our culture and the stigma gays and lesbians face,” Zamora said. “There was a high school girl who was there to support her two lesbian mothers. A mom was there to support her transgender child.”

She said the meeting was well organized, providing good reciprocal support, and was attended by people from around the county — and even from South Padre Island.

Zamora said she recently became more aware of LGBT issues when she read a story by a high school student describing his struggle.

“This is a very Hispanic community,” Zamora said, “and it’s something you don’t talk about in the Hispanic community.”

Zamora said she hopes to find a co-sponsor to put an item on the city agenda introducing the group to the community.

Speece said she decided to found the group because she always had gay friends. She found that along the border and the coast, the closest groups were in El Paso and Corpus Christi and she knew there was a need locally.

“I would hear people say things,” Speece said. “I’d take it in and I didn’t know how to respond. But there’s something wrong with using God to justify their hate.”

Speece said that over the past two years there have been four murders of gay men in Cameron County. One, Barry Horn, was executive director of the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art.

The trial of the 19-year-old accused of Horn’s murder is set to begin in February. And Speece said she is sure defense attorneys are planning a “blame the victim” strategy.

“This needs to stop, Speece said. “We need to start educating the community, so I decided it’s time.”

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes, who helped the Dallas and Fort Worth chapters incorporate in the early 1990s, is involved in the new group’s formation. He said he was concerned that clashing personalities could kill the effort to organize and remembered similar concerns when P-FLAG formed in Dallas.

Wightman-Cervantes credited Dan and Pat Stone, two of the organizers of the Dallas group, with focusing on communication between parents with gay and lesbian children and a variety of allies when the group started.

Speece was also concerned about that, she said, and was very nervous as she began the meeting. But as people began talking to each other, she knew the new group was already working well. They were all there for one reason.

“Parents are supposed to protect their children,” she said.

P-FLAG Brownsville meets the first Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. All Souls UU Church, 124 Paredes Line Road, Brownsville. 956-433-3524.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens