Tennessee legislators expected to address gay adoptions

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by NewsChannel 5 &
O&AN Staff Reports

The General Assembly returned to session Tuesday with a few fresh issues and several leftovers from last year, including a plan by Republicans that would bar gays and lesbians from adopting children.

In October last year, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper issued the opinion that Tennessee has no constitutional obstacles for gay couples wanting to adopt children, as long as adoption is found to be in the best interest of the child (see that story here).

Christopher Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), predicted when the opinion was give that the legislative session would more than likey include an attempt to bring back legislation that was originally proposed in 2005 that would prohibit same sex adoption. The 2005 bill was killed in the House Children and Family Affairs Committee on an 11-9 vote.

Sanders said TEP was closely watching the current session for anti-gay bills.

"We are vigerously tracking all bills relating to adoption, foster care, custody and guiardianship. We will be ready if an attack comes," Sanders said.

TEP’s annual "Day on the Hill" will be held on Feb. 19.

Democrats hold a 53-46 advantage in the House, while the two parties are tied at 16 each in the Senate, with one independent.  The Associated Press (AP) has reported that House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) is opposed to legislation curtailing gay adoption. Without his support it is unlikely the measure would reach a vote on the floor of the House.

Judges currently have the discretion over who can adopt children, and state officials have told him that it’s better for children to be in a home than to be wards of the state, Naifeh told the AP.

The AP has also reported that there are an estimated 9,000 children in state custody. In 2006 slightly over one-thousand children in state custody were adopted. Figures for 2007 have not been released.

“No one wins by putting up artificial barriers between children who need parents and parents who want to love and raise them,” said local attorney Ben Papa. “I think the Attorney General is exactly right and his opinion is in line with many other states. The process of adoption is a stringent one, no matter the sexual orientation of the adopting parent or parents.”

Tennessee law does not require people petitioning for adoption to be married.

“If they (gay couple) jump through all of the hoops set up in the statute and the judge finds that it is in the children’s best interest for the adoption to go through, then it should go through,” Papa said.