Heard on the Hill

Maloney has sharp Father’s Day message for gay adoption critics

The New York Democrat and his husband have three kids

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney takes a selfie with his daughters Daley, right, and Essie in New York in 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sean Patrick Maloney doesn’t have any elaborate plans for Father’s Day.

“I’m gonna sit my butt in a lawn chair and hang out with my kids, something I don’t do very often,” he says. “Playing catch with my daughter, who’s a softball player, or going for a swim.”

As happy as he is to keep it simple on Father’s Day, the New York Democrat, who is gay, seems a bit weary from battles with social conservatives over LGBTQ rights. I caught up with Maloney on a rainy morning after he’d just commemorated the third anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, in which a gunman killed 49 people at a gay club in Florida. The congressman had sharp words for the Trump administration and critics of gay adoption, comparing them to segregationists like George Wallace “standing in the doorway” to prevent progress.

The Trump administration is considering rolling back Obama-era nondiscrimination rules that cut federal funding for agencies that refuse to let gay parents adopt.

“Why allow that discrimination against LGBTQ people?” Maloney asks rhetorically, staring down and choosing his words carefully. “Because it’s still OK in a lot of rooms in this town to hate on LGBTQ people and to dress it up as religious liberty or some other stupid thing.”

Maloney and his husband have been parents for 26 years, after taking on the child of a family friend who was in what the congressman describes as a tough situation. He later adopted two girls and says the administration’s proposal doesn’t just harm gay parents — it could also leave even more kids in foster care.

“Well, I think first and foremost about the kids who need loving homes,” says Maloney. “The fact is, there was a time in the 1990s where a number of adoption agencies discovered that with the hardest cases, when they couldn’t find families to adopt children, if they turned to LGBT couples, they have success. In other words, LGBT couples, for whatever reason, were more willing to adopt children.”

UNITED STATES - JUNE 11: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., and his husband Randy Florke, right, pose with their daughters Daley, 15, left, and Essie, 13, in the Newburgh, N.Y., near the Water Department, June 11, 2016. Maloney was touring Lake Washington which has contaminated water. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Maloney and his husband Randy Florke in 2016. “Don’t give up,” he advise would-be parents. “You can do it. I’m living proof.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The congressman has several pieces of legislation he’s hoping to get moving, but “the Equality Act is head and shoulders the most important thing we need to do at the federal level,” he says. That bill, which passed the House in May, would expand the nondiscrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation.

“The forces of hate are doing pretty well right now,” he says. “Those of us who want to move forward and bring the country together are getting in the game.”

There’s also the LGBTQ Essential Data Act, which would ensure that the National Violent Death Reporting System includes the violent deaths of LGBTQ people. You “can’t count what you can’t measure,” as one activist at the Pulse commemorative event put it.

Maloney is under no illusions about the potential difficulty of moving the measures through a Republican-controlled Senate.

“Look, all these bills are facing the same problem,” he says. “We have a president and a Republican Senate that do not fundamentally believe in equality of LGBTQ people and who can still explain away their bigoted views with false claims of religious liberty.”

When it comes to LGBTQ parents looking to adopt, Maloney has some advice: stick with it.

“Don’t give up,” he says. “You can do it. I’m living proof. And we’re going to win these fights. … In the end, we’re going to win our full equality.”

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