NGLTF Issues Clarification on Adoption Legislation Now Before US Senate

July 20, 2000

Inaccuracy in AP report sends the wrong message to family advocates

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Family Pride Coalition and National Center for Lesbian Rights said today that a July 18 Associated Press story incorrectly implied that federal legislation relating to inter-country adoptions had succeeded in prohibiting lesbians and gay men from adopting children from foreign countries. The groups request all journalists covering the adoption issue to read the attached Boston Globe article as well as the attached analysis by Rep. William Delahunt, sponsor of the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoptions.

As background, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) originally threatened to include an amendment to the treaty that would ban adoptions by gay, single, or "promiscuous" people. He did not succeed in attaching that amendment. Without Smith's amendment, the treaty is supported by the adoption community as a positive way to streamline the process while at the same time ending some abuses in the system.

The treaty now includes language that simply requires a central U.S. authority to inform adoption agencies of the rules and criteria of countries sending children for adoption in the US. While some countries may report criteria that could raise a question about lesbian and gay people adopting from that particular country, the requirement is certainly not the sweeping ban that Rep. Smith sought.

The bill now will go to the Senate, so this debate is not yet closed.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Family Pride Coalition, along with National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Human Rights Campaign, have closely monitored and commented on the bill, and are available to comment on the impact of the bill, should it also pass the Senate.

From 7/19/2000 The Boston Globe, page A3

By Adam Pertman, Globe Staff, 7/19/2000
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company

A landmark treaty on international adoptions appeared headed for enactment by the United States, with House passage yesterday of legislation to implement the pact and an announcement that the Senate's lone holdout now supports ratification.

The treaty, called the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions, is considered by adoption professionals and politicians active on the issue to be the most ambitious effort ever attempted to reform and streamline the adoption process and weed out corruption worldwide.

"I honestly believe the enactment of this treaty will, to a large degree, eliminate the abuses that currently exist," said Representative William D. Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat, who was instrumental in winning passage of the House measure. "The lack of ratification was going to have disastrous consequences for all Americans who are interested in international adoptions."

Among its major provisions, the treaty would: establish the first global standards intended to protect children from being sold and improve procedures for finding them homes; prevent coercion of birth parents by unscrupulous practitioners; and set guidelines to cut red tape and otherwise streamline the process for adoptive parents.

Sources on Capitol Hill and within the U.S. adoption community predicted that enacting the implementing legislation and the treaty itself could be completed before Congress adjourns for its August recess.

US ratification was delayed partly because the process is lengthy, but also because some U.S. politicians wanted to amend the agreement in ways that were so controversial that they stalled its consideration.

In recent months, as a carefully crafted compromise draft of the implementing legislation appeared close to passage, one lawmaker in the Senate and one in the House threatened to use parliamentary maneuvers to prevent the treaty's ratification unless their concerns were addressed.

Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, wanted the legislation to preclude adoptions by homosexuals, unmarried Americans, and people with "promiscuous lifestyles." Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, said he feared the proposed rules would increase costs for adoptive parents and impose cumbersome standards that would drive some people out of the adoption business.

Smith finally went along with the House measure after some changes were made.

Each ratifying country is required to establish a "central authority" to deal with international adoptions. The revision obtained by Smith dictates that the U.S. central authority will notify American practitioners of the criteria set by other countries for prospective adoptive parents.

Because China and some other nations are averse to adoption of their children by gay and single adults, many potential adoptive parents could be excluded. But the sending country would have to formally notify the US central authority - the State Department - of any restrictions. Since it is in the interest of those countries to find families for thousands of orphaned and homeless children, the sending countries might be less likely to impose restrictions.

Similarly subtle concessions appear to have been made to win over Brownback. Asked during a telephone interview whether the senator was now ready to support passage of the Hague Convention, his spokesman, Erik Hotmire, replied, "He now supports the legislation - The deal is done."

One "improvement" cited by Hotmire is that individual states, in addition to the federal government, would be able to establish entities like central authorities that could set guidelines and accredit adoption practitioners. Many, if not most states, however, would probably leave those issues up to the State Department, which currently has jurisdiction over international adoptions.

The other revision obtained by Brownback, who with his wife adopted a daughter from China last December, was to insert language giving extra time for small and medium-sized agencies to meet the treaty's standards and gain accreditation. This was not a major sticking point for any of the pact's negotiators.

The final product, said William Pierce, former president of the National Council for Adoption and the organization's consultant on the Hague Convention, "clearly shows a lot of subtle, nuanced negotiations between people like Mr. Smith and Mr. Delahunt." He added, "It is a win for everyone."

The most important immediate result, according to nearly everyone interviewed, is that nations with concerns about U.S. adoption practices - especially Russia and Romania, which have recently halted adoptions of their children - will be reassured about the U.S. commitment to reform.

The Hague Convention, named for the city in which it was drafted, was completed in May 1993. Since then, 40 nations have enacted it.

The United States is by far the largest "receiving" nation of international adoptees. Last year, 16,396 adoptees came to the United States from abroad, more than double the number a decade earlier.


The following brief question-and-answer analysis of H.R. 2902, the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000, was prepared by Rep. William Delahunt, sponsor of the legislation:


Provisions for exchange of information with countries of origin regarding their domestic adoption requirements: Effect on Adoptions by Lesbian and Gay Families

Q. Would the bill prohibit adoptions by lesbian or gay parents from countries that permit such adoptions?

A. No. The bill says nothing about "gay adoptions," nor would it alter the legal requirements for adoption in the United States or anywhere else. Countries that permit such adoptions today could continue to do so.

Q. Would the bill prohibit adoptions by lesbian or gay parents from countries that do not permit such adoptions?

A. No. However, if a country expressly states that it does not allow such adoptions, the bill would require the Secretary of State to see that any such restrictions are communicated to U.S. adoption agencies. It would further require adoption agencies to provide (through the home study or a supplemental statement) any information that is relevant to such restrictions. It would then be up to the foreign country to determine whether the adoption should proceed.

The Secretary and adoption agencies would have the same responsibility with respect to any other restrictions communicated by a child's country. For example, if a country of origin specified that it did not want its children adopted by people of a certain race or religion, or by people with certain physical disabilities, the Secretary would be required to transmit this requirement to U.S. agencies and the agencies would be required to provide any information regarding the prospective adoptive parents that is relevant to such restrictions.

These requirements acknowledge that under the Convention the country of origin will continue to have final say as to whether to allow children to emigrate for purposes of adoption. It does not imply approval or endorsement of any restrictions imposed by foreign law, nor does it require the U.S. government to interpret or enforce them.

Q. Would the bill make it less likely that such adoptions will go through?

A. While it is possible that some countries that have not previously specified restrictions would choose to do so once they are asked, there is nothing in the bill that would require or encourage them to do so. Indeed, some countries may decline to specify per se restrictions that would prevent families from applying and deprive adoption authorities of the flexibility to evaluate the best interests of the child on a case-by-case basis.

To the extent that restrictions already exist under foreign law, most adoption agencies are well aware of them and advise prospective adoptive families accordingly. Indeed, if an agency knows that the family would not be permitted to adopt under the requirements in such countries, it has an obligation to share this information with them before they embark on the costly and time-consuming process of international adoption. In this regard, the bill would not change current practice.

The bill would require agencies to include in the home study information that they know to be relevant to any restrictions that a country chooses to specify. Agencies that currently do so would not be required to change their practices. However, to the extent that any agencies have withheld such information in the past, the bill would prohibit them from continuing to do so.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.