Franklin County

Adoption bill stirs debate in Frankfort

FRANKFORT — Anthony and Richard Harland-Bennett have been together for 23 years.

Seven years ago, they adopted Amber, a baby girl whose biological parents could not take care of her.

But to legally adopt Amber, they had to move from Florida to Wisconsin, where it was legal for two men to adopt a child. They moved back home to Kentucky several years ago but are worried that a bill filed in the state Senate could make their family illegal.

"We're worried that we will have to leave again," Richard Harland-Bennett said. "Anthony and I were both raised here in Kentucky, and I would hope that we would be welcome here."

The Harland-Bennetts were featured speakers at a Capitol rally Wednesday to protest Senate Bill 68, which would prohibit unmarried couples who live together from being foster or adoptive parents. About 100 people attended the rally, where many called the legislation a "hate bill" masquerading as a bill that would protect children.

Sen. Gary Tapp, R-Shelbyville, the bill's sponsor, dismissed charges that the bill was discriminatory and said numerous studies show that children raised by stable, married parents do better than those who are not.

The debate escalated Wednesday, with each side accusing the other of using the estimated 7,000 children in foster care as tools to push their respective agendas.

Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said the bill, if passed, could cost the state as much as $5.3 million.

Tapp said he doubts that the bill would cost the state that much. He said he would grandfather existing foster homes with unwed parents, meaning the state would not have to remove children from those homes — part of the estimated $5.3 million cost.

More important, Stein said, people should oppose the bill because it's discriminatory. "We can't afford to let those children be pawns of those who want to use homophobia yet again to scare the citizens to pass this kind of bill," she said.

Anthony Harland-Bennett told the group that his family has been subjected to bigotry and hate just because they decided to raise a child.

"It is the hate that should be banned, not our family," Harland-Bennett said.

But in a statement, Martin Cothran, of the Family Foundation said it was the Fairness Alliance and other gay-rights groups that were using children to push their agendas.

"There are people so fixated on their own political agendas that, when it comes to the placement of children, safety takes a back seat," Cothran said.