House defeats anti-gay adoption amendment

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives defeated an anti-gay amendment today that aimed to limit gay and lesbian couples from adopting children in the District of Columbia. The 215-213 vote was a victory for the more than 3,100 children in Washington without homes, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., would have prohibited unmarried couples from jointly adopting children. Largent attempted to attach the measure to the District of Columbia appropriations bill.

"The welfare of children triumphed over anti-gay politics," said HRC Political Director Winnie Stachelberg. "Having two legal guardians is in the best interest of a child because it often gives greater financial security and ensures that an adopted child can receive health and other benefits from both parents."

Another amendment, which would prohibit federal and local funds from being used for needle exchange programs in Washington, passed 241-187. That amendment, offered by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., further prohibits funds from being paid to any organization that carries out such programs.

"This amendment unfairly singles out district residents and sets a dangerous precedent for states and localities where needle exchange programs operate," said Stachelberg. "This measure flies in the face of sound science and will result in more people suffering and becoming infected with HIV."

Earlier this week, District Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and former Reagan administration Surgeon General C. Everett Koop wrote separate letters to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asking him not to forbid the District from using money on needle exchange programs.

"I am now writing to express my strong belief that local programs of clean needle exchange can be an effective means of preventing the spread of the disease without increasing the use of illicit drugs," Koop wrote.

The same language included in the Tiahrt amendment was passed last summer and has had deleterious effects on the district's needle exchange programs. For instance, a needle exchange program had to be dropped by Whitman-Walker Clinic and run by a stand-alone entity, Prevention Works.

Forcing the program to operate as a stand-alone entity has removed the benefits of access to primary care and other supportive services. Additionally, the House passed an amendment by Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., aimed at undermining a referendum in which District of Columbia residents approved the medicinal use of marijuana to help relieve suffering patients.

Barr's amendment, which passed on a voice vote, would prohibit funds from being used to legalize or reduce penalties for the possession, use or distribution of any Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. That would include marijuana. "We will work tirelessly during the months ahead to defeat the remaining problematicamendments in conference," said Stachelberg.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian and gay Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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