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Texas Backs Off Bill to Ban Gay Foster Parents

The governor says the proposal could hurt efforts to revamp a child protection agency.

April 23, 2005|Scott Gold | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — Leading Republicans in Texas distanced themselves Friday from a proposal to make the state the only one to prohibit gays and lesbians from being foster parents. It appears the plan will die without becoming law.

The Texas House approved the plan this week, despite concerns that as many as 3,000 children could be removed from their foster homes. But amid a groundswell of anger and criticism, conservatives backed away from the proposal Friday. GOP leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, said the proposal was so flawed it could endanger a broader initiative to overhaul the Texas Department of Child Protective Services.

Kathy Walt, Perry's spokeswoman, said the governor believed that a "traditional marriage between a man and a woman is the best environment in which to raise children." However, she added, "He does not want the important focus of reforming CPS to get sidetracked by this debate."

"We need to focus on protecting children," she said.

Among Republican lawmakers, Perry's response was seen as a message to back off. And a key state senator leading the CPS restructuring effort said that she planned to resist the amendment containing the ban on gay foster parents. GOP Sen. Jane Nelson said that because a similar plan was declared unconstitutional in Arkansas, she feared that the Child Protective Services overhaul would be stalled by legal challenges.

"We need these reforms immediately to help those children who are living in danger as we speak," she said in an e-mail. "And we cannot allow this reform bill to be tied up in the courts for years over an issue that was never part of our review."

A spokeswoman for Rep. Robert Talton, who proposed the ban, said he no longer wished to discuss the issue.

The Texas Senate and House have approved different versions of the Child Protective Services bill; the differences must be ironed out in committee before the bill becomes law. It is expected that Talton's amendment will be dropped from the compromise legislation. GOP officials said privately that they were stung by the response to the proposed ban.

Perry declared an emergency this year after several children were killed following visits from caseworkers who had determined that the children were not in danger. The overhaul would give Child Protective Services hundreds more investigators, reduce caseloads by an estimated 40% and give more of the agency's tasks to private companies.

Talton's amendment would require the state to ask a prospective foster parent if he or she is homosexual. Gays and lesbians would be eliminated from consideration, and foster children who live with gay parents would be removed from their homes. The measure would also allow the state to conduct investigations into a prospective or current foster parent's sexual orientation.

"How would you ever impose this?" Walt asked.

The American Psychiatric Assn. has concluded that children raised by gays or lesbians "exhibit the same level of emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functioning as children raised by heterosexual parents."

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