WASHINGTON -- In the latest of series of legislative attacks against gay Americans and people at risk for HIV, two amendments to the District of Columbia House Appropriations Bill were passed that would prohibit unmarried couples from jointly adopting and deny money for needle exchange programs. The discriminatory adoption amendment, offered by Oklahoma Republican Steve Largent, is unmistakably anti-gay and is an intrusion into local government that will put thousands of DC children at risk, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
"The contradictions and illogic of Largent's anti-gay amendment are unbelievable. On the one hand, those pushing it say they want to provide greater security for children. But in reality, they are creating less stability by limiting the number of guardians which will leave children vulnerable," said HRC political director Winnie Stachelberg. "The American public doesn't want family policy made by the federal government. It is hypocritical that these vocal proponents of more local control want to play national nanny and micro-manage adoption decisions that should be made on a case-by-case basis by parents and professionals."
Under the Largent amendment, which passed on a 227-192 vote, single DC residents would still have the ability to adopt children. The amendment will ban joint adoption by unrelated persons. While both parties of an unmarried couple would obviously still serve as parents to the child, the second parent would have no legal responsibility or protections for the child, including financial. In unfortunate circumstances, such as a break up or the death of a legal parent, the non-legal parent would have no legal responsibility to care for the child. As of June 22, 1998, there were 3,600 children in the D.C. foster care system waiting to be adopted.
The passage of Rep. Largent's amendment follows last week's rejection of the same amendment offered by Rep. Tiahrt to the House Appropriations Committee. For three years, there have been attempts to attach similar language on adoption in the D.C. appropriations bill. This is the first time such language has passed.
An August, 1997 poll conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates shows that most Americans agree that the federal government should stay out of family law decisions. In fact, Americans categorically reject the notion that the government should take a greater role in deciding who can and cannot adopt children. By a margin of nearly four to one (74 to 19 percent,) voters say we should keep the system we currently have, rather than allow the federal government to take a greater role.
Kansas Republican Rep. Tiahrt's amendment to the bill also passed by a vote of 250-169. The Tiahrt amendment would prohibit the use of federal and District funds from being used for needle exchange programs. The amendment further prohibits funds from being paid to any organization that carries out such programs.
"This crass political opportunism and intrusion into local District affairs will result in more people suffering and becoming infected with HIV," said HRC senior health policy advocate Seth Kilbourn.
The Tiahrt amendment is a radical departure from previous Congressional action on this issue and sets a dangerous precedent for many states and localities where needle exchange programs operate using local and state funds.
The District of Columbia has chosen to use its own funds to address an urgent local need. Congress should not encroach on the ability of any state or locality to implement successful programs to prevent the transmission of HIV.
"We will work tirelessly during the months ahead to defeat both of these amendments in conference," said Stachelberg.