Nobody tells you the etiquette for meeting a little boy and deciding whether he will be in your life forever.
My son was 4 years old when I met him, and already he had lived in six foster homes.
When we met, I brought coloring books and Legos to help ease both of us into a conversation. As we began playing Legos, he decided he wanted to build a house. After negotiating the color of the roof and walls, he turned to me and asked, "Does the house have grass around it?" Aware that the context of the house had changed, I smiled and said, "Yes, it does." He picked up the little Lego boy that came with the set and asked, "Should we put the boy in the house?" "Yes," I said. "And who will take care of this boy in the house?" he asked. "I will," I said. Seven months later he came to live with me in what he called his "forever home." He's 15 years old now.
We decided to expand our family four years ago. My partner, Liane, and I knew we could provide a loving home for another child in need. And my son particularly wanted a brother. Then we ran into a 211-year-old law prohibiting private sexual intimacy between consenting adults in the commonwealth of Virginia -- a law that is used mainly against lesbians and gay men.
Because the first adoption had gone so well, we figured it wouldn't be long before our family grew. We were required to go through another home study, which noted my son's troubled beginnings and his very evident progress. The home study also reflected the facts that our home is full of love and respect, that we live in a pleasant neighborhood with good schools, and that we were more than equipped to care for additional children.
We wanted to adopt a child from foster care in the District, just as we had done with our first son. Because we live in Arlington, approval for the adoption was needed from both the District and Virginia. State officials in Virginia faxed a copy of the sodomy law to the social service agency handling my application. Because of this law, the state considered us an "inappropriate placement." I was stunned.
After I had raised a son adopted through the very same process, I was denied because Virginia applies its sodomy law mostly to gay men and lesbians. I had no idea that this law applied to me -- or that it even existed. There is no law saying that gay men and lesbians can't adopt children in Virginia. But the sodomy law was used as an excuse to prevent me from providing a "forever home" for other children. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to a very similar law that is on the books in Texas.
Of the 1,000 children waiting to be adopted out of foster care in the District, only 96 were placed in permanent adoptive homes during the most recent year for which statistics are available. Most of the children waiting are more than 6 years old and thus considered the most difficult to place. That's exactly the kind of child we can -- and want to -- bring into our home.
In order to be judged on the basis of what kind of home I could provide -- rather than being branded by a law whose sole purpose is to justify discrimination against gay people -- I had to take Virginia to court. Last summer, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund settled its case on my behalf when the state agreed to start allowing people like me to adopt children. Gay men and lesbians will be judged by the same standards as every other family seeking to adopt children.
One of the things I've learned during all of this is that what happened to me isn't unique. In every one of the 13 states that still have the kinds of sodomy laws the Supreme Court discussed last week, lesbians and gay men have been denied jobs, have lost custody or visitation with their children, or have otherwise been denied basic rights -- all based on these laws.
Looking back, I now vaguely recall hearing about efforts to strike down Virginia's sodomy law a few years ago. I didn't pay attention and forgot all about it because it didn't have anything to do with me. Last week, when the Supreme Court heard the case against Texas's sodomy law, I paid attention. Now I know this is about basic freedoms, privacy and fairness. It's about me and my family.
The writer lives in Arlington.