InsideOut At City Hall: The Other Parent Trap

Roadblocks to adoption by qualified same-sex couples must stop.

I have no doubt that children are best off being reared in two-parent, opposite-sex households than in any other parenting configuration.  

Actually, let me be more specific.

Children are best off being reared in households with their two birth parents where the parents are stable, loving, of adequate economic means, have good parenting skills, and are part of a strong family or community support network.

See how the devil is in the details? Unfortunately, for the vast majority of the world’s children, that family is an unrealistic fantasy. Unfortunately, for too many of America’s lawmakers and judges, that fantasy is the only family they can politically support. Unfortunately, for too many children subject to the whims, delusions, and subjective fears of our local juvenile courts, if that family doesn’t exist, they can wait in foster care until they turn 18 (or until hell freezes over?) and are turned out into the world.

The fact that many children are lovingly and successfully raised by single parents, relatives, same-sex couples, foster parents, step-parents (as I was), or adoptive parents (as I am) doesn’t deny the truth I stated in that second paragraph. It just proves that humans are highly adaptable and that we cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Children need a baseline of loving care, strong role models of both sexes, and the fewest dislocations of parental bonds possible to become whole functioning adults. Many family and parenting situations can provide that.

It is indisputable that there is a correlation between long-term foster care and homelessness in young adulthood. It is indisputable that there are horrible stresses on our foster care system, and that children who languish in the system deal with a constellation of behavioral and adjustment issues.   While it is less obvious whether those problems stem from foster care placement or the chaos of the birth family, it is clear they are not being adequately addressed in the foster care system.

And yet, conservative judges in Harris County (and there is no other kind) have an active bias toward keeping children in a system that repeatedly and tragically fails them. Better, apparently, to allow them to languish in foster care than to allow them to be placed in safe, loving homes that don’t meet a myopic view of the “right” family. Or better a marginally acceptable heterosexual couple than the loving, caring gay or lesbian couple that has been successfully caring for a child for years.

National Adoption Day occurs each November. Watching the news coverage of that event, lots of happy tears and smiles from newly formed families, I was moved to pen this screed. I have previously written about my own experience in adopting my two daughters from foster care here in Harris County on National Adoption Day four years ago—a frustrating, insulting, and embarrassing experience on what should have been a happy day. When the assigned judge refused to grant my adoption of the girls, my attorney had to plead with another judge to step in. We sat for hours in the courtroom while family after family was legally affirmed by the court, not sure whether the adoption would proceed. Finally, when the rest of the docket was complete, an alternate judge slipped in and performed the adoption.

Of course, if you want to adopt a child that the state has said you are qualified to raise, you can lie about your relationship so the judges can pretend, for the far fringe of their constituents, that gays and lesbians don’t adopt in Harris County. Obviously, that wasn’t something I could or would choose, but what a great message of integrity to model for one’s children.  

That my life partner’s second-parent adoption was later performed in another county in a relatively easy procedure shows that it doesn’t have to be like this. While many of the family and civil court judges are excellent, the three juvenile court judges should be replaced for the good of our children.   I am aware of too many gay or lesbian prospective adoptive parents who have met all state requirements; endured background checks, home inspections, and parenting classes; and survived the six-month pre-adoption placement only to be subjected to frivolous delays, unnecessary ad litem expenses or arbitrary rulings when their adoption pleadings go before these judges.  

We also need to elect juvenile court judges who are open to the fact that some of the young people appearing before them are acting out and breaking laws because they’re transgendered and have been thrown out of their homes. A judge in a nearby county recently contacted a Houston   attorney experienced in TG issues to serve as an ad litem attorney for a troubled young person, but that option has   apparently not occurred to Harris County juvenile court judges.

When such inequality prevails, we are denied our right of access to the courts. But our children lose something much worse—their future.

Annise Parker is the second-term city controller and the highest-ranking openly GLBT-elected municipal official in any of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Her website is Parker’s television program, Money Matters, airs Monday on the Municipal Channel (Comcast) at 2 and 8 a.m. and 2 and 8 p.m. The City Controller’s webpage is To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an email to

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Annise Parker

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker is the President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and LGBTQ Victory Institute. A complete list of Victory Fund-endorsed candidates is available at

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