UPDATED (9/13): Rep. Chris Smith’s campaign released audio Thursday contesting earlier claims the New Jersey Republican believes children would be better suited in orphanages than same-sex households.
A spokesperson for the longtime U.S. House representative released full audio of his May 29 appearance at Colts Neck High School, alleging that a shorter segment published by the Washington Blade was taken out of context. In the longer version, Smith clearly states “lord, no” when asked the orphanage question.
The Congressman contradicts himself throughout his address to the New Jersey students, however. He goes on to suggest that being placed with same-sex parents is not in the “best interests” of adoptive children.
“[A]doption is all about the best interests of the child,” Smith said. “Now there are people who feel the best interest of the child is for gay couples to adopt. I really believe that the best interests, you find a home where they are more likely — the home study that is done takes in all kinds of factors.”
The latter remark refers to an alleged study showing that children with parents of the same gender have worse educational and life outcomes than kids with opposite sex parents.
Smith does not cite the source, likely because the assertion is out of step with the overwhelming body of research on the subject. Ninety-five percent of studies conducted on same-sex households show there’s no fundamental difference in the lives of kids raised by heterosexuals and those with LGBTQ parents, according to The Guardian.
In fact, a 2010 study published in the Pediatrics journal found that children with two moms were “better adjusted” than their peers.
A Republican lawmaker ignited controversy this week when audio surfaced in which he claimed kids are better off in orphanages than with gay parents.
Congressman Chris Smith, a longtime representative for New Jersey’s Fourth Congressional District, made the offending remarks while visiting Colts Neck High School on May 29. During a conversation with students in the school’s auditorium, a young woman, Hannah Valdes, challenged his opposition to same-sex marriage.
“My sister is gay and she’s talked about wanting to adopt a child one day with her partner,” Valdes explained.
Earlier in the event, Smith cited “household studies” stating that the children of same-sex couples are less likely to succeed than kids with opposite-sex parents. Valdes asked why, based on those alleged reports, he felt someone like her sister couldn’t be a “legitimate parent.”
The conservative attempted to pivot away from the question. Smith asserted that the issue is “legally… a moot point” following the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on marriage equality.
“She’s free to adopt,” he claimed.
Valdes, a senior at the northeast New Jersey school, didn’t allow Smith to dodge the question. “Right, but why do you think she shouldn’t be able to adopt a child?” she asked again.
In an audio recording of the exchange obtained by the Washington Blade, Smith nervously fumbled the response. Tripping over his words as he stammers out a reply, he first cited the long lines of prospective parents waiting to adopt a child at adoption and foster care centers.
“I do believe that there are many others who would like to adopt who can acquire a child,” Smith claimed. “As I said, the waiting periods are extremely long.”
On its face, this statement is true: A 2013 report from Reuters found wait times for applicants who would like to adopt is getting substantially longer than the expected six- to 12-month window. Some couples wait up to two years.
Nonetheless, there remains extraordinary demand in foster care and adoption centers. More than 100,000 U.S. children are waiting to be placed with a family.
At that point, a second student jumped into the discussion.
“OK, so what makes [heterosexual couples] more legitimate than her sister, those other people waiting for a child?” a female classmate interjected.
“Well, you know, in my opinion, a child needs every possibility of, you know,” Smith rambled as he searched for his answer. “You mentioned… somebody mentioned orphanages before.”
“I mean, orphanages are still a possibility for some kids,” he added before trailing off.
Lawmakers in New Jersey quickly lambasted Smith’s comments after the four-month-old comments were leaked by the Blade. In a press release, fellow U.S. House Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat, claimed that he was “inspired by [Valdes’] courage in standing up to Congressman Smith.”
“My heart breaks for the young high school student who was told by Congressman Smith that her sister was somehow less deserving or qualified to be a parent,” Pallone said. “[…] I know that the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans stand with her.”
This isn’t the first time Smith has been met with backlash over his anti-LGBTQ views, however.
During a 2015 hearing in the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, the Congressman heard testimony about the passage of anti-LGBTQ laws in Nigeria criminalizing homosexuality. Under Section 214 of the Federal Criminal Code, intercourse “against the order of nature” is punishable with up to 14 years in prison.
Four years ago Nigeria doubled down on its anti-gay sodomy laws by passing legislation to ban same-sex marriage.
As LGBTQ people continue to be persecuted, harassed, and arrested in Nigeria, Smith responded to the crisis by saying he does not “construe homosexual rights as human rights.” He added, “I am a strong believer in traditional marriage.”
Current Hasbrouck Heights city councilman Chris Hillmann accused Smith of “trying to pit some people’s human rights against those of others.”
“For a person in his position to dehumanize such a large segment of our society and to suggest that members of the LGBTQ community are creating hurdles for U.S. diplomats is appalling on so many levels,” said Hillman, who served as the LGBT Caucus chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee at the time.
Smith has also supported a proposal to ban same-sex adoptions in the District of Columbia, backed a constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage equality, and opposed LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.
The Republican unsurprisingly earned a zero percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard — the lowest possible rating.
Voters will have the chance to weigh in on Smith’s views in November, when he faces off against Democrat Josh Welle, a Navy veteran. Although the Republican won the Fourth Congressional District in 2016 by 30 points, the Cook Partisan Voter Index estimated the district leans eight points to the right.
That margin, however, could be wiped out by the projected 8.2-point bump Democrats are experiencing in the 2018 midterms.
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