A Family By Choice

By Kathleen Schuckel

Reprinted from The Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS (Sun. Jan. 9, 2000) — Butch Kimmerling adopted his 8-year-old foster child to keep her from becoming a gay man’s daughter. Kimmerling, 52, is now accused of molesting the little girl, and has admitted it.

Even as Kimmerling prepares to go to court soon on 10 felony counts of child molestation, a state lawmaker prepares to introduce legislation to stop gay people from adopting.

State Rep. Woody Burton, R-Greenwood, said he was appalled at Kimmerling’s admissions to molesting the little girl. "That guy ought to be put in jail," he said.

Still, Burton says, that doesn’t mean Kimmerling’s protest against gay adoption was wrong.

Spurred by Kimmerling’s protests over gay adoption, Burton sponsored a bill last year in the General Assembly that would have banned gays or single people from adopting. It didn’t pass, but he plans to re-introduce legislation in 2001.

FAMILY TIME: Craig Peterson and his three sons — (from left) Andrew, Michael and Brandon — share a laugh while reading a storybook before bedtime. Peterson, 39 and a gay man, has overcame many obstacles to adopt three special-needs boys. )

Away from the maelstrom, in a quiet house in Indianapolis, a gay man raises the little girl’s three brothers, ages 4, 5 and 6. They are his sons, now. Even as Craig Peterson tries to shield his boys from the swirling controversies, the intersecting threads still touch them.

Peterson is fighting for the right for his sons to visit their older sister. In fact, he would still like to adopt her or arrange visits between her and her brothers.

"These boys … would love to have a relationship with their sister, and they’ve never been given that opportunity. We talk about her, and we pray for her."

The Kimmerling’s adoption of the boys’ sister was approved — in December, 1998 — even before Peterson’s adoption of his sons was approved. That approval came in September 1999.

"Here, I’m jumping through hoops, and they’re taking hoops down for these people," Peterson said.

Even after the Kimmerlings "won" adoption of the little girl, they continued to fight for a ban against gay adoption.

In a letter to the editor of The Indianapolis Star, published Oct. 13, 1998, Kimmerling and his wife wrote: "Girls need mothers so they can learn what it is to be a woman; they need fathers so they know how to interact with the opposite sex."

Kimmerling later admitted molesting the little girl numerous times before and after that letter was written — "many times since April or May 1998, and the last time on the morning of May 10, 1999," court documents note Kimmerling said.

Two veteran public servants in Madison County — Detective Dale Koons and Judge Fredrick Spencer — weren’t surprised by the molestation charges against Kimmerling.

"Those with the deepest secrets protest the most," Spencer said. He said he knew of numerous instances of child molesters, before they were found out "…said that all molesters should be taken out and shot for their crimes."

Kimmerling’s attorney, John Erickson, said his client has fully cooperated with officials, has had no contact with his daughter and has sought treatment.

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said he plans to try the Kimmerling case himself, rather than hand it to a deputy prosecutor.

Cummings, who himself grew up in foster care in Anderson, moving from home to home and experiencing abuse in some homes, said he takes special interest in this case.

"I want to do it, and I want to make sure it gets done the way I want it done," he said.

Cummings said last month that he didn’t anticipate a plea agreement. Refusing to talk about this case specifically, Cummings said that he saw prison as "the only option" for most child molesters.

Of the 10 counts pending against Kimmerling, two are A felonies, the other eight, C felonies. On each A felony charge, Kimmerling could get 20 to 50 years in prison, and two to eight years imprisonment for each C felony.

The Indiana Legislature won’t be alone in debating the issue of gay adoption.

Controversies surrouding the issue have erupted nationally. Last year, Texas attempted to ban gay adoption, but it failed in the legislature.

However, an aide to Gov. George W. Bush said the presidential hopeful would have signed a law banning gays from adopting.

And just last year, New Hampshire lifted its ban on gay adoption. Previously, foster children weren’t even allowed to spend the night in a home where a homosexual was visiting.

THERAPY: Michael, Andrew and Brandon watch a half-hour of a Disney video before bedtime with their heads in their hands to help strenghten their neck muscles, which are weak from the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome. Peterson believes this will result in improving the boys’ attention spans.

While Utah and Arkansas make gay adoptions nearly impossible, Florida is the only state that has an outright ban on gays and lesbians adopting. The law stemmed from Anita Bryant’s 1977 crusade to overturn a gay rights ordinance in Dade County.

Indiana’s Burton is clear in his opposition to gay people becoming adoptive parents.

"I think children need the influence of both a mother and father," said Burton, who said he also plans to introduce other adoption reform bills. "(Children) need two different people with different biological makeups.

"It takes a man and woman to make a child. It takes a man and woman to raise a child."

Burton said children adopted by gays and lesbians are hurt unnecessarily when forced to experience the stigmas and mistreatment gay and lesbian parents receive in society.

Others disagree.

"There is not one credible study out there to demonstrate that children of gay and lesbian parents suffer at the hands of their peers any more than any other kids," said Sean Lemieux, the director of the Project for Equal Rights for the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.

"Does that mean we take kids away from overweight parents because they get teased on that basis?"

Steve Kirsh, an Indianapolis lawyer who mostly handles infant adoptions, occasionally works with gay and lesbian couples.

One birth mother purposely chose a gay couple to be her baby’s parents because the child was biracial, Kirsh said. The woman reasoned that the couple had themselves faced prejudice and would be better equipped to raise a child facing prejudice.

In Kirsh’s practice, gay couples have adopted African-American babies, biracial babies or those with disabilities.

He doesn’t think any ban on gay adoption is necessary.

"Given the fact that there are so few gay adoptions taking place and also that gay couples are adopting hard-to-place children, I would think the legislature has more important things to worry about."

Peterson’s sons all have special needs. Because of their birth mother’s use of alcohol during pregnancy, they suffer effects of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Ron Carpenter knows about children, like Peterson’s sons, who are hard to place. He heads the Children’s Bureau of Indianapolis, which has a contract with the state to help find homes for nearly 2,000 Hoosier children needing homes.

"Special-needs kids take some very special or unique kinds of families," Carpenter said. "Though it would be great to have the ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’ family unit stepping forward, it just doesn’t happen."

There are some critics of gay adoption who insinuate that gays are more prone to molest children.

In 17 years on the bench, there is one type of person Judge Spencer in Madison County says he has not seen facing molestation charges: homosexuals.

"I have never seen a known gay person who has been accused of sexually molesting a child," he said.

Burton says he thinks more married couples would adopt, if the state had less red tape and better laws to assist them. That will be part of the legislation he plans to introduce next year.

Judith Myers-Walls, an associate professor of family studies at Purdue University, questioned Burton’s premise that a traditional mother and father are always the best for children.

"We put adoptive parents through a lot more rigor than we do biological parents," she said.

As a result, some studies show that gay and lesbian parents tend to be better quality parents.

"They’re working very hard at parenting. They’re much more conscious of what they do and are careful with decisions because they worry of how they are perceived by others," Myers-Walls said.

Furthermore, kids adopted by gays don’t "become" gay, she said.

Studies show that gay and lesbian parents are slightly less likely to have children who identify themselves as gay or lesbian than heterosexual parents, Myers-Walls said.

Peterson said doesn’t spend much time researching the issues.

Instead, he’s focused most on being a father; providing for his sons’ most immediate needs: good educations and a nurturing home that helps them to grow up kind and successful people.

The father finds sad irony in the fact that Kimmerling, who later admitted being a child molester, fought so hard to prevent him from adopting.

"How could that man say horrible things about me when he’d been doing this to the girl?"

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