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The Value All Families Coalition is urging Pennsylvania legislators to oppose proposed amendments to House Bill 345 and its reform of the Adoption Assistance Program. House Bill 345 will make it easier to place special needs and hard-to-place children with loving adoptive families. Amendments now offered for consideration by the House as it reconvenes for its spring 2004 session threaten to derail the initiative by using the bill as a vehicle for a conservative moral agenda. As part of an anti-gay marriage effort, Rep. Jerry Birmelin, R-Wayne, has proposed as many as 50 wide-ranging amendments that would harm existing and new families. Several of the amendments seek to ban adoption by all single persons and by same-sex couples. Other amendments define marriage as between a man and a woman, outlaw common law marriage and block domestic partner benefits for entities doing business with the commonwealth. Numerous legislative and administrative studies have identified the lack of post-adoption supports as a critical barrier to the adoption of children in foster care. House Bill 345 shifts the costs of the Adoption Assistance Program to the state in order to remove any disincentive for local officials to offer benefits to eligible families. The non-partisan Advisory Committee on Adoption Law convened by the Joint State Government Commission recommended its mechanism and content. The Adoption Assistance program provides financial supports and medical insurance for hard-to-place children: Children with disabilities and special medical needs, children who are 5 years of age or older and children who are members of sibling groups. The federal government reimburses state and local government for most of the costs of the program. The proposed amendments will prevent adoption agencies from accepting many qualified adults as parents and will prevent many waiting children from obtaining permanent families. The current serious statewide shortage of foster parents will only be exacerbated. County child welfare agencies rely on the entire community to care for needy and often unwanted children. Single persons, grandparents, lesbians and gay men are becoming parents in growing numbers, and these constituencies are critically important resources for the child-serving community. Social science research indicates that children raised in a lesbian or gay household are not disadvantaged and grow up as happy, healthy and well adjusted as the children of heterosexual parents. A loving, stable home is always in the best interest of children, and outlawing adoption by qualified parents denies foster children and other special-needs children the opportunity to grow up in nurturing homes. Across the nation and for generations, the premise of adoption law is that “any person may adopt.” Pennsylvania law should continue to allow a person who wants to serve or who is already serving as a parent to take on the legal responsibilities of parenthood. Traditional relationships with grandparents and other kin, and less traditional relationships like second-parent adoptions, provide permanency and stability for many children. Adoptions also advance the legal rights of children including the right to inherit, access to health benefits, disability and survivor’s benefits, and financial support from legally recognized parents. The Birmelin amendments are deeply anti-children and anti-family, as well as discriminatory and mean-spirited. They are bad for Pennsylvania’s future. These amendments could prevent House Bill 345 from becoming law. As a coalition of labor, religious, political and advocacy groups, the Value All Families Coalition is calling on our legislators to recognize that all families have meaning and value for the children in their care. We must do everything we can do to stop the passage of these amendments.

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