From any objective point of view, Chandler Burr would have been rendered fit to be a father. A successful journalist and author, Burr has written for The New York Times since 2010. He is regarded as a decent man with no criminal record. Earlier this year, the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (Colombian Family Welfare Institute, or ICBF), Colombia’s social services bureau, had approved Burr’s request to adopt two neglected children, ages 10 and 13. Burr filed for parental guardianship because according to him, these children were “abandoned at birth [and] they were starving.”
Then the nightmare began.
Burr, now a happy adoptive father (as of yesterday), was preparing to travel to the United States with the children. But after casually mentioning to an ICBF official that he is gay, the ICBF suddenly decided to step in again. According to Burr, the children were interrogated separately by an official, who asked them if they know their new father was a homosexual. Both children responded that yes, they knew, but that they didn’t care. Still, the ICBF decided to prevent Burr from keeping the children as a “protective measure.”
The case became national news when Burr was interviewed on W Radio, one of Colombia’s most influential media outlets. Diego Molano, the ICBF’s new director who was unaware of the Burr case, had to rush to the media to explain a decision that he had not made. After some initial stumbling, Molano came up with an explanation that stuck: the ICBF decision was undertaken because Burr had “omitted information” during the adoption process. That is, Burr’s children were being returned to the orphanage because he had never revealed his sexual orientation.
Was this a case of discrimination? First, a working definition of the concept: discrimination exists when a person is deprived of a certain right granted by the Constitution or by the Law, only on the basis of particular personal features, such as race, religion or sexual orientation. If Burr was denied adoption solely because of his sexual orientation—after originally being granted parenthood in due legal process—discrimination is the only logical conclusion.
The first explanation given by the ICBF was that the decision was taken as a “protective measure.” This assumes that people—in this case, Burr’s children—need protection against an unspecified threat. Since the father’s homosexuality was the only information that forced the decision, the conclusion is that the ICBF officials believe homosexuality is a threat. This is a prejudiced act. No evidence supports the view that homosexuality makes a person dangerous or potentially harmful to children.
The adoption procedure looks into all of the features of the aspiring parent that are considered relevant for parenthood. Sexual orientation is not one of them. Introducing such new criterion, with no justification, is plain and simple discrimination.
Consider Molano’s explanation. According to him, Burr “omitted” information about his sexual orientation during the adoption procedures, but Burr maintains that he was never asked about it. This means there was nothing to actually omit. Actually, adoption procedures in Colombia do not require the applicant parent to reveal his or her sexual orientation. Let’s suppose that a heterosexual person did not reveal his sexual orientation; would this person suffer the same consequences? Simply put, this is cruel discrimination.
Public outrage seems to have produced a happy ending, though. A review was conducted, and on Monday, the children were given back to Burr’s care. Just in time for Christmas.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.