A White Family Fights to Keep a Black Child, but a Connecticut Judge Says No
"Jamal was in his cradle by the fireplace," Wendy remembers, "and the caseworker looked down at him and said, 'We're looking for a nice black family for you.' I couldn't believe it—he already had a nice white family." Two weeks ago the Lusas' fears came to pass: A superior court judge ruled that the couple must give up Jamal, in large part because his race differs from theirs.
They already had two children of their own, but it was as followers of Bahá'í, a 116-year-old religion stressing universal brotherhood, that the Lusas set out to adopt a black baby. The couple was warned that the general policy was to place children in racially compatible homes, and that black families were available. The Lusas were determined. While their adoption application was still pending, the state Department of Children and Youth Services asked if they would take a newborn black child. The Lusas said they would. A date was set: March 21, the Bahá'í New Year.
The state now contends it made clear that the placement of the baby was a temporary, emergency move because a black foster family could not immediately be found. The Lusas were nevertheless hopeful that the baby would be theirs. "We told the caseworker who brought him to our house we wanted to adopt. We understood he would try to cut the red tape," recalls Michael, 28, a physical therapy assistant. The family named the infant Jamal—a Persian word for beauty. The couple's two natural children, Jessica, 5, and Joshua, 4, called him their brother.
Then, increasingly apprehensive that the state would object, the Lusas seized the initiative and sued to keep Jamal in their home. "We think of him as our natural son," says Michael, who had to moonlight as a maintenance man to pay the legal fee. "It was just like fighting for Josh or Jessie."
The resulting trial, Michael complains, "was like being raked over the coals." State witnesses claimed the couple wanted Jamal to prove some religious point. They argued that Wendy is pregnant—an obstacle to adoption in Connecticut. The Lusas say they were unaware of it when they accepted Jamal. "They questioned whether I could love that many people," says Wendy, 27.
After 10 days of testimony the superior court ordered Jamal removed from his home of four months. Though several issues were raised, the 38-page opinion seemed to turn on race. "No family...can be an island," wrote Judge Harry Hammer. "Granted that society and the community should not harbor attitudes against interracial mixture, the subject...is the child, whose life will be affected by community values and prejudices as they exist, not as they ought to be."
Some legal authorities don't expect it to end there. Comments Columbia Law School professor Peter Strauss, "The need of a child for a family overwhelms any concern that the color of their skin may be different."
For the Lusas, the decision has been crushing. The nursery door remains closed. Wendy's voice breaks when she recalls finding one of Jamal's T-shirts in the laundry after his departure. (The rest of his clothes and toys were sent with him.) This week Jamal is expected to be placed for adoption with a black family, and the Lusas are comforting themselves with the prospect of their third child, due in November. "But Joshua keeps asking me," says Wendy, "if someone will come and take the new baby too."