Foster Follies

The cost of anti-gay discrimination


In March, the Arkansas Senate moved to ban gay couples from adopting or fostering children. As legislators debated the issue, the Williams Institute, a UCLA research group that studies sexual orientation law and public policy, released a report on the economic effects of gay adoption. If gay couples were expelled from the foster and adoptive care systems nationwide, the study found, 9,300 to 14,000 children would be displaced. The cost of putting all of them back into the foster system: about $130 million.

The Arkansas House of Representatives eventually nixed the anti-adoption legislation, but M.V. Lee Badget, research director at the Williams Institute, doesn't think the idea has lost momentum. "This is the second wave of the anti–gay marriage backlash," he says. "The amendments that banned gay unions were successful, and there are some policy makers who want to keep walking down that road."

Thus far, only Mississippi, Utah, Florida, and Nebraska have passed laws of the kind considered by Arkansas. But de facto discrimination against gay fostering or adoption is much more common. The Williams Institute found that "one third of agencies would reject a gay or lesbian applicant" either on religious grounds, whether they have a policy of dealing only with legally married couples, or because agency workers bring their own biases to the process. And no lawmaker could fix all of that.