There are more than 440,000 children in foster care across the country, with more than 125,000 children waiting to be adopted. LGBTQ people have long served as foster and adoptive parents. Research shows they are more likely to foster or adopt than their peers. Despite this, some states have passed laws that seek to permit discrimination by social service agencies, limiting the number of qualified families available to provide loving homes to children in state care. These laws mean that children may spend more time in the foster care system because otherwise qualified families may be turned away when they fail to meet the litmus test of an agency’s requirements for religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, or because they are unmarried. Meanwhile, other states have proactively sought to ensure that all qualified families, including LGBTQ people, can adopt without fear of discrimination.
State religious exemption laws permit people, churches, non-profit organizations, and sometimes corporations to seek exemptions from state laws that burden their religious beliefs. These laws have recently been used as a defense when businesses discriminate against or refuse service to LGBTQ customers and same-sex couples.
Foster care non-discrimination laws protect LGBTQ foster parents from discrimination by foster care agencies and officials. Some states explicitly restrict foster care by same-sex parents. Other states ban adoption by unmarried couples, effectively resulting in a ban on foster care by same-sex couples if marriage for same-sex couples is not available in that state.
Donor insemination laws apply when women in a same-sex relationship have a child through donor insemination, granting legal parenting rights to the non-biological mother as well as the birth mother. De facto parenting laws apply when someone is raising a child but is not a legal parent of that child. De Facto parenting laws provide these parents with some limited legal rights to the child.
This map shows the percent of same-sex couples raising children based on data from the 2010 Census, conducted by the Census Bureau, and analyzed by The Williams Institute.
June 2023 - This report explains how the current patchwork of parentage laws across the country – many of which haven’t been updated in decades – leaves LGBTQ parents and their children vulnerable.
October 2020 - This series of issue briefs analyze what’s at stake in the Fulton case. Ultimately, a broad ruling in favor of Fulton could leave millions of people without access to needed publicly funded services – and discrimination could become a regular occurrence when seeking needed social services or assistance.
August 2020 - This report examines the potential outcomes of the Fulton v. City of Philadelphia case, which could create a license to discriminate throughout the child welfare system.
March 2019 - When states allow child services decisions to be based on religious beliefs and not the best interests of kids, it’s kids who pay the price. Learn more in this powerful new ad from MAP, the Child Welfare League of America, and the National Association of Social Workers. For more on the campaign, visit KidsPayThePrice.org.
January 2019 - This policy brief, authored by MAP and the Family Equality Council, in partnership with the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), offers a snapshot of the impact of discriminatory foster and adoption laws on the thousands of children waiting to be adopted in the states where these laws currently exist, the high stakes of passing similar laws in other states, and offers recommendations for supporting children in care.
July 2018 – An amendment to a federal appropriations bill seeks to create a license to discriminate for child welfare providers, prioritizes the interests of providers over the welfare of children, reduces the likelihood that the most vulnerable children will find stability, and cuts more than $1.04 billion to state child welfare budgets. The more than 395,000 children in the child welfare system across the country will pay the price.
June 2018 – Authored by MAP and the Family Equality Council Putting Children at Risk: How Efforts to Undermine Marriage Equality Harm Children highlights how recent efforts to undermine marriage equality and protections for LGBT families pose a profound threat to the children in these families.
April 2018 - To support the efforts of Freedom Oklahoma to fight back against a dangerous adoption discrimination bill in 2018, MAP and partners at Lambda Legal and the Family Equality Council ran this ad on television in Oklahoma called “Kids Pay the Price,” illustrating the harms of bills like SB 1140.
February 2018 - This infographic outlines the overrepresentation of LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system and the criminal justice system, and their experiences while involved with these systems.
September 2017 - This report details how religious exemptions for child welfare providers hurt children and vulnerable families. Agencies that provide services to children and parents should focus on providing loving, stable homes for children and helping families in need. Instead, these laws encourage and enable adoption agencies and their workers to reject qualified parents who don’t share the agency’s or worker’s religious beliefs.
April 2017 - Texas House Bill 3859 would allow child-placement agencies to impose their beliefs on and discriminate against children and families while providing taxpayer-funded services. Agencies would be allowed to make placement decisions based on their religious beliefs, hurting the more than 28,000 children in the care of the state, including nearly 7,000 children awaiting adoption.
March 2017 - Alabama House Bill 24 and Senate Bill 145 would allow child-placement agencies to make placement decisions based on their own religious beliefs, hurting the more than 4,745 children in the care of the state of Alabama, including more than 1,020 children who are awaiting adoption. HB24/SB145 would allow agencies to impose their beliefs on and discriminate against children and families while providing taxpayer-funded services.
THIS REPORT HAS BEEN UPDATED
March 2017 - Read about religious exemption legislation that would allow child placement and adoption agencies to discriminate against loving families while providing government services paid for with taxpayer money. These laws enable adoption agencies and their workers to reject parents who don’t share the agency’s or worker’s religious beliefs, legally prioritizing those beliefs over the best interests of children.
March 2017 - Some states have introduced legislation to create broad religious exemptions allowing discrimination in taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care services. Such laws would allow adoption agencies and child services workers to make decisions for children in their care based on their religious beliefs, rather than the best interests of the child. Learn how to talk about these harmful laws which deprive children of loving homes.
March 2017 - Senate Bill 149 allows child-placement agencies to make placement and child treatment decisions based on their own religious beliefs, as opposed to following standards that advance the best interests of children. SB 149 would allow child-placement agencies to impose their beliefs on others and to discriminate against children and families, all while providing services paid for with taxpayer money.
May 2016 - Read about approaches for effective conversations about harmful religious exemptions that threaten not only laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination, but also access to health care (including women's reproductive health), public safety, and more.
September 2015 - LGBT Policy Spotlight: State and Federal Religious Exemptions and the LGBT Community examines how state and federal religious exemption laws are being used to harm a broad range of people, interfere with law enforcement, and undermine the rule of law.
October 2012 - Access easy-to-navigate charts, maps and tables examining key population data on LGBT families, snapshots of how laws and policies hurt children with LGBT parents at the federal and state levels, and more in this companion document to All Children Matter.
July 2012 - Learn how the lack of legal recognition for LGBT families hurts children—and how state policymakers can draft, pass and enact laws that protect all children, including those living with LGBT parents and in other contemporary family structures.
June 2012 - MAP, Family Equality Council, the Center for American Progress, the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign report on how LGBT families can help fill the pressing need for loving, stable foster and adoptive homes for waiting children.
June 2012 - Focus conversations about parenting, adoption and LGBT parents on how they create loving, stable homes for kids and help ensure that children have the nurturing environment that allows them to thrive and succeed.
March 2012 - MAP, Family Equality Council, the Center for American Progress and the National Coalition for LGBT Health examine the obstacles faced by LGBT families as they seek access to a range of health services, health insurance, and equitable tax treatment.
January 2012 - MAP, Family Equality Council, the Center for American Progress and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) report on how inequitable laws hurt children with LGBT parents and contribute to higher rates of child poverty.
January 2012 - Outdated laws that ignore contemporary families have a disproportionately negative impact on children of color. This brief looks at LGBT families of color and how they can be devastated by intersections of laws, stigma and race-based discrimination.
November 2011 - MAP, Family Equality Council and the Center for American Progress partner with the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry to examine how DOMA denies children basic rights and safety nets—just because their parents are gay.
October 2011 - Read the comprehensive analysis of how our nation’s laws and policies fail to protect 2 million children with LGBT parents—and how common-sense solutions could end the inequalities that create barriers for children in LGBT families.
October 2011 - This 34-page “digest” version of All Children Matter provides a high-level understanding of how legal and social inequalities hurt children of LGBT families—and how children have become collateral damage of laws designed to hurt LGBT people.
October 2011 - This executive summary—featured in the Full Report of All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families—provides key findings in capsule form, as well as an overview of the report's policy recommendations.
October 2011 - This 60-second video highlights some of the specific legal and social inequalities—from the denial of access to a parent’s health insurance coverage to the denial of legal protections if a parent becomes disabled or dies—that hurt children of LGBT parents.