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There are close to 3,000 children in foster care in Utah right now, and more than 600 of them are waiting to be adopted. Sadly, some legislators in Utah are proposing a bill that would significantly limit children's opportunities to find both temporary and permanent homes by codifying into Utah law a preference for placing children who are in state custody with married, heterosexual couples. This legislation being proposed in Utah would make it official state policy to declare partiality for heterosexual adoptive and foster parents, while LGBTQ individuals and couples would be considered as a last resort for a child in need of a family.

Child welfare policy must have the safety and well-being of children as the central focus. It is no surprise that members of the LGBTQ community and their allies are incensed by yet another battle that questions the core of their humanity. The real victims here, though, will be the children who suffer at the hands of a policy system that is more vested in politics than the welfare of a child. For thousands of children in the foster care system, the chances of them finding safe and secure homes will be made based on personal convictions and discriminatory beliefs, not sound policy.

A quarter-century of research has found that children raised by lesbian and gay parents fare as well as those reared by heterosexual parents. Major professional groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, as well as national and state child welfare organizations, overwhelmingly support adoptions by qualified same-sex parents.

Research estimates that same-sex couples are four times more likely than heterosexual couples to be raising a child they adopted. Studies have also documented that lesbian and gay adults are willing to adopt the very children most in need of homes and those who wait in temporary foster care the longest — those who are older and who may have special needs — and that these families do so at a higher rate than heterosexual adults.  

Laws, policies and practices are not always reflective of the realities of the modern family structure today. This harms both children and society at large. Nationally, at the end of 2014, there were almost a half-million children who called foster care home, while 107,000 of these children are awaiting adoption. Last year, almost 19,000 youth throughout the United States "aged out" of foster care without a permanent family. The outcomes facing youth who exit foster care on their own, versus being placed with a permanent family, are staggering; these young people are more likely to flounder in society with higher rates of mental health problems, substance abuse and unemployment compared with their peers who are adopted. Some estimate that up to 50 percent of foster youth who age out will experience homelessness at some point in their young lives. Yet, we continue to see states create legislation that curtail opportunities for children to receive the stability and security that are so vital for their healthy development.

Given the ever growing need for qualified foster homes, all states should be creating pathways to increase their pool of qualified parents, not limit them. Foster and adoptive parent applicants must be judged based on their qualifications, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It's imperative that lawmakers in Utah and in every state declare partiality for children and prioritize their best interest when considering legislation that impacts the lives of society's most vulnerable members.

April Dinwoodie is chief executive of The Donaldson Adoption Institute.