One of the priorities of the Obama administration is to advance adoption rights for gay couples.
It is a divisive issue. On one side, supporters of the gay agenda talk about the thousands of kids waiting to be adopted.
On the other side, a strong belief exists that children need both a mom and a dad.
The Steeles are one family that have given kids in foster care the chance to experience 'happily ever after.'
Dana and Alan Steele have three biological kids and have since adopted seven from foster care.
"It's definitely a blessing for us," Mr. Steele said, "but it's more about them. Each one of these kids needed a home."
For the Steele kids, adoption is all about love, security and safety.
"Our son Jake is five. He was three months old when we got him and he had 36 broken bones and he'd been shaken twice," Mrs. Steele explained.
Civil Rights Agenda
These kids are at the center of an adoption debate that has a powerful lobbyist: the White House. President Obama's move to push gay adoption is part of his civil rights agenda.
But many gay adoption advocates say, it's also about the kids. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said more than 125,000 foster kids need adoptive parents.
Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute thinks gay couples can help meet that need.
"Show me the line of married couples trying to adopt those kids and show them whatever people think is the ideal family," he said. "Show me that line. It doesn't exist. So what we have is 9-year-olds in their 6th placement in life with no shot. Is that better?"
'Children Do Best With Mom and Dad'
Family law expert Lynne Kohm said the answer to that question usually is settled in the courtroom. She points to a mountain of research that shows children do best with a mom and a dad.
"Every family court in every state is charged with the legal standard of protecting what's in the best interest of this child and if the research shows that a child is better with a mother and father married to each other it would seem that that should be the default rule for adoption," she said.
Kohm notes that Arizona has considered providing an adoption preference list for judges to follow, starting with a mother and father married to each other.
She would like to see other states consider such guidelines.
"We don't have a default rule," she said. "We're coming at this back door. We don't know what we're doing policy wise because everyone is afraid to talk about it because there's such a powerful lobby on behalf of same-sex couples."
Front Battle for Gay Rights
A Time Magazine story last fall observed that gay adoption might soon be the new front in the battle for gay rights. But the issue is also a battleground for religious liberties.
For example, last year Lambda Legal, a gay rights organization, filed a discrimination complaint against an Arizona-based adoption service.
The reason? Adoption Profiles refused to post same-sex couple profiles on its website. The result? That agency no longer operates in New York or California.
In 2006, Boston's Catholic Charities abandoned its adoption work rather than comply with Massachusetts' gay adoption law.
Religious liberties advocate Kevin Hasson worries about the implications of such moves.
"What's wrong with gay adoption from a religious liberties perspective is that it forces religious agencies and individuals to do something that violates their conscience," he said. "And that's wrong."
For now, the battle over who will adopt our nation's children remains in the courtroom both for individual cases and broader policy issues.
Issue Remains in Courtroom
For instance, the Florida Supreme Court must decide whether a ban on gay adoption is constitutional. And in Louisiana, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether the state must honor a gay couple's birth certificate for their child, who was adopted in New York.
It's a tough issue for the Steeles, who see the need for more adoption but question whether gay couples are the best way to meet that need.
"Any foster kid coming into the system to be adopted, they already have plenty of issues they're dealing with," Mr. Steele said. "And it's really not fair to give them another major issue they have to deal with."
But with the White House backing gay adoption, this may be an issue many more kids have to deal with and soon.
*Originally published May 26, 2009