Gay adoptive parents facing opposition in hometown

State stays mum; some legislators fight issue

? When Bill Dunn talks about his three adopted sons, it’s pretty clear that being a father is the most important thing in his life.

His boys – 6-year-old Nathan, 5-year-old Haden and 2-year-old Henry – came from foster care in California. Now, they live in a comfortable two-story house with a front veranda and porch swing in a historic Wichita neighborhood. Dunn is a stay-at-home dad.

“My greatest hope for my children is they are tolerant, that they grow up to be nice people, kind people. I want my kids to be happy,” Dunn said. “Even on your worst day, the blessings far outweigh any of the bad things that make you want to tear your hair out.”

But some Kansans wouldn’t see the boys’ home as a Norman Rockwell painting because Dunn lives with Shaun Morse, his male partner of 15 years. They don’t hide their relationship, and some people feel being gay is reason enough to disqualify them from parenthood.

Legislature involvement

Bill Dunn, left, holds Haden, 5, while Shaun Morse holds Henry, 2 , and Nathan, 6, on the front porch of their home in Wichita. Both Dunn and Morse are listed as parents of the California adopted boys. Kansas state law is silent on whether gays or lesbians can adopt foster children.

Meanwhile, at the urging of conservative Rep. Steve Huebert, a joint legislative committee will review “adoption criteria” for foster children this year. It could recommend changes that the Legislature may – or may not – deal with next year.

“We need to have a policy to have a mother and father as adoptive parents,” said Huebert, R-Valley Center. “We have a policy that allows more than that. I think that adoption should be limited to homes with a mother and father.”

Despite Huebert’s interest and his success in getting a review, it’s not a front burner issue with every legislator.

“In the great scheme of issues that need to be resolved by the Legislature, this isn’t at the top of the list,” said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence. “I haven’t spent a lot of time worrying about it.”

State stays silent

The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services oversees the state’s foster care program. Adoptions involving foster children are handled through SRS contractors.

State law is silent on whether gays or lesbians can adopt foster children. Unmarried couples can’t adopt foster children jointly.

An unmarried individual can adopt and live with another person, but only the individual who adopted would have legal custody.

Last year, 627 foster children were adopted in Kansas and about half that number were placed in homes through private adoptions. SRS says the number of foster children averages about 4,500 per month.

The state doesn’t keep statistics on how many gays and lesbians adopt foster children. However, Matt Foreman, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s executive director, said nationally about 22 percent of gay partners and 34 percent of lesbian couples are parents.

The 2000 Census showed 594,391 same-sex partner households nationally – 1 percent of all households. There were 3,973 same-sex partner households in Kansas – a fivefold increase from 1990 and 0.3 percent of all households.

Huebert said he isn’t crusading against gays and lesbians.

“I have been getting different calls and people who say I am trying to attack the homosexual community, and that is not my goal,” Huebert said. “Some say it’s a political issue, and that’s not my goal either.”

Long-standing practice

Foreman called Huebert’s statements somewhat disingenuous.

“It is not only anti-gay; it is anti-child,” Foreman said. “All children deserve a loving home, and gay couples provide that in Kansas and all over the country without problems.”

Foreman said a chief complaint is that a child living with a gay or lesbian couple will become gay or lesbian.

“A child’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with the child’s parents, otherwise you wouldn’t have so many gay people,” he said.

Foreman said Florida and Mississippi prohibit gay and lesbian couples from adopting and similar efforts were under way elsewhere. Legislation to prohibit or limit gays and lesbians from adopting or becoming foster parents failed this year in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, he said.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union asked a court to overturn the state of Missouri’s decision to deny a woman’s application for a foster parent license because she is a lesbian.

At issue is an unwritten state policy that prevents people who are openly gay from becoming foster parents. The state’s social services department said it has a long-standing practice not to knowingly license as foster parents people who declare themselves to be homosexual.

Foreman sees attacking gay adoption as the conservatives’ next move after preventing gay marriage. In April, Kansans became the 18th state to rewrite its constitution to say the only recognized marriage is between one man and one woman.

“This is just another example of – frankly – that bizarre obsession with homosexuality,” Foreman said.

Healing emotional scars

Dunn and Morse returned to their hometown last year, thinking it would be a good place to raise a family. Dunn, who’s called “Daddy,” decided to stay home while Morse, who answers to “Poppa,” joined the corporate world to be the breadwinner.

California authorities removed the boys from families unable to care for them, leaving scars that Dunn said he and Morse still are trying to heal with love and understanding.

“If we hadn’t stood up to adopt them, they might have stayed in long term foster care, which is awful,” Dunn said.

With talk of changing adoption procedures just starting, Dunn is concerned. While the California adoption papers list both Dunn and Morse as parents, he worries about what could happen in Kansas.

“My greatest fear is that they will write a law so broadly it will impact what already is a done deal in California,” Dunn said. “I would not risk my children. We would leave, which is maybe what they want.”