Prairie Politics

Kansas senator criticizes media coverage of foster care and gay rights

Sen. Forrest Knox said he wants DCF to begin tracking family structure and other information so that the agency can study what type of home best meets the needs of kids.
Sen. Forrest Knox said he wants DCF to begin tracking family structure and other information so that the agency can study what type of home best meets the needs of kids. File photo

A south-central Kansas lawmaker sent an e-mail to constituents Wednesday criticizing media coverage of the state’s foster care system and the rights of same-sex couples.

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, chairs a special committee on foster care that reviewed research about the fitness of same-sex parents last month. The research, from Catholic priest and sociologist Donald Paul Sullins, has been disputed by the American Psychological Association and other scientific organizations. The testimony was widely reported and drew some criticism.

“The media’s issue of the day, homosexual rights, seems to trump all,” Knox said in his e-mail to constituents. “Though most of the research dealing with how best to meet the needs of children is not at all aimed at the homosexual marriage issue, anything that seems to cast their choices in a bad light is considered controversial.”

“Not long ago it was not at all controversial that the traditional, ‘nuclear’ family – comprised of a father and a mother in a lifelong, loving marriage – raising children – was considered to be the best way to meet the needs of children,” Knox continued. “Today this view is no longer politically correct and is actually received by many with anger…My concern is the children. If the state has custody of children, should we not do the best we can at meeting their needs? There is no ‘right’ of certain people or classes of people to be licensed foster parents.”

The bulk of research does not support the claim that gay parents are less equipped to raise children, according to Jennifer Pearson, a sociologist at Wichita State University. A survey by Columbia Law School found that 73 of 77 studies on the matter show that the children of gay parents fare no worse than their peers raised by heterosexual parents.

Tom Witt, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Kansas, said Knox “ignores reality and continues to cite thoroughly discredited reports to justify tearing children from safe, loving households and placing them in dangerous and abusive environments, such as the Schumm family in Topeka.”

“He needs to stop politicizing gay and lesbian families and focus on what’s best for all children and families, not just those that live in the fevered imaginings of his fringe ideology,” Witt said.

Witt referred to Topeka City Council member Jonathan Schumm and his wife, Allison, adoptive and foster parents who face charges of aggravated battery, abuse of a child and child endangerment. Last year, a judge removed a child from lesbian foster parents in Wichita, who were trying to adopt, and placed the child with the Schumms, who had adopted the child’s half-siblings. The move was based on a recommendation from the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

DCF won’t comment specifically on the case, but has repeatedly said it does not discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Reach by phone, Knox said that he tried to present both points of view at the hearing, noting that a representative from the American Psychological Association testified in opposition to Sullins.

“The liberal side just totally discounts the conservative side and kind of attacks their character instead of just talking about the facts. And that’s what I’m trying to do. That’s why I brought out both sides…because what I want to do is address the facts,” Knox said. “And personally I believe the facts show that the traditional nuclear family best meets the needs of kids.”

Knox said he wants DCF to begin tracking family structure and other information so that the agency can study what type of home best meets the needs of kids. He introduced a bill last year that would have qualified heterosexual married couples for higher compensation as foster parents if they met a list of requirements, including no alcohol or tobacco in the home.

Knox is not the only lawmaker to contend that heterosexual couples are the best option as foster parents. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, the chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, said in an e-mail that enough research has gone into the subject.

“It fits with common sense, as we should be able to acknowledge that mothers and fathers interact with children in distinctly different and complementary ways,” Pilcher-Cook said. “Each sex is different in nature and necessary for the optimal development of a child.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, is seeking an audit to determine whether the state is discriminating against same-sex couples. He said the rhetoric from his colleagues in the Legislature won’t help efforts to bring accountability to the system.

“The things that Forrest Knox is saying are ridiculous,” Ward said. “All of that’s been rejected.”

“My argument to Forrest and Mary is they’re still trying to argue the world is flat and the rest of us have moved on,” Ward said.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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