Unmarried Arizonans on March 17 urged senators to reject a bill that would give preference to married couples in adoption cases, but a Senate panel voted to advance the measure after arguing about the definition of family values.
Those who support the bill argued the state has a responsibility to establish the very best environment for children in its care, and they cited statistics that show children who grow up in traditional households with a mother and a father fare better.
“When the state steps in and removes a child from a family… then the state has an obligation to provide the very best for that child,” said Kay Ekstrom, founder of the Christian Family Care Agency, a foster care and adoption center. “And in my opinion that is a mom and a dad.”
But Sen. Rebecca Rios, a Democrat from Apache Junction, said not everyone in society agrees that the perfect family includes a married heterosexual couple.
“I don’t know how we can argue that a mom and dad is the best setting when 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce,” she said.
The bill, H2148, was approved by the Senate Public Safety and Human Services Committee by a 4-3 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor via the Rules Committee. The House passed the measure earlier this year.
H2148 would state adoption agencies to give “primary consideration” to placement with a married couple, although adoption agencies may consider placement with a single person if a married couple is not available. It provides exceptions that would allow a single person to have priority over a married couple if the single person is a legal relative of the child, or if the alternative for the child would be extended foster care.
The bill is one of several measures being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, an evangelical Christian advocacy group, and the Arizona Catholic Conference.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said the bill allows for flexibility, taking into account the child’s best interests.
She said “social science data is still fairly overwhelming that children do best with a married mom and dad from an intact family home.”
But unmarried people who testified to the committee said giving any kind of preference to married couples in adoption cases would dissuade single persons from seeking adoption. That, in turn, would mean many children will never get a shot at permanently landing in a loving home, they said.
Susan Frank, an attorney and single parent, said many factors make a good parent, and being married doesn’t always mean a better home environment for children.
“Patience, nurturing, time, commitment, sense of humor. Are these always found in a marriage?” she asked the committee members. “If you think you can legislate a perfect family, you can’t. To make a blanket assumption that any married couple is better than a single parent is short-changing our kids.”
Rebecca Schapback, also a single parent who has extensive experience as pediatric nurse, said she would never have gone through the process of adopting her daughter if the law at the time had stipulated that married people get preference.
“I don’t think I could have gone through the heartache of… having a child in my house or getting my expectations up only to have them dashed because I was a single parent,” she said.
On another level, the bill is part of a larger debate over what “family values” actually means. On one side are those who believe that the traditional definition has served society well for a long time and should be preserved. On the opposite end are those who believe that the definition of family should be much broader than just a father, a mother and their children.
Ron Adelson, CEO of an adoption center, said the problem with the measure is the perception it creates. What he has heard is that single parents of adoptive children have said they wouldn’t have stepped forward if the policy were in place.
“What we need to decide is what is more important. Is it more important for us to codify our values or is it more important for children to have homes?” he said.