Michigan's Adoption Day should include LGBT families

By Jay Kaplan

Many kids are fortunate to have the legal protection of two parents. However, for Michigan's gay and lesbian community, jointly adopting children is complicated by political ideology. Although Michigan's laws do not prohibit joint adoptions by unmarried couples, many gay and lesbian couples, who are not allowed to marry in our state, have learned the hard way that when it comes to adoptions, the best interests of a child are rarely considered.

Take Dennis and Tom Patrick of Superior Township who have jointly adopted four children, however, struggle today to adopt their fifth son whom they have fostered for years. Although all of their children have lived together like siblings, in the eyes of the courts, only four of the kids have the legal protection of both parents.

How could this be? With so many children who need loving and caring homes, how can we discriminate against potential parents simply because of whom they love? Much of the blame for making it difficult for gay families to adopt in Michigan rests on Maura Corrigan, former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. While serving as chief justice in 2002, Corrigan without legal precedent or a relevant case before her, instructed the Washtenaw County Family Court to stop accepting petitions for adoptions by same-sex couples. The impact reverberated throughout the state. Although Corrigan is no longer on the Michigan Supreme Court, she now holds a more important position with regards to adoption as the current director of the Department of Human Services, which oversees adoptions in Michigan.

The Department of Human Services and the Michigan Supreme Court recently teamed up to declare Nov. 22 as Michigan Adoption Day, in an attempt to draw attention to children and youth in foster care, particularly their need for permanent loving families. While we applaud Corrigan's efforts to focus attention on the plight of children in foster care and their need to be placed in adoptive homes, it's dishonest to leave gay and lesbian couples out of the conversation. It is our hope that in exploring the various obstacles and challenges to adoption, the statewide event will also look at the way most Michigan courts have denied and continue to deny gay couples the right to jointly adopt children.

The legal adoption of children by two parents allows the child to have protections and benefits on the most basic level, by allowing both parents to make emergency medical care decisions on behalf of their child, ensuring that both parents have an obligation to provide financial support and allowing the child to remain in the custody of the surviving parent in the event of a death or ensure that the child can have parenting time with both parents in the case of a break up. By manufacturing a prohibition against unmarried couples adopting, Michigan judges are punishing children and teaching kids a terrible lesson in discrimination at a very young age.

Neither Michigan's adoption nor foster care laws prohibit gay or lesbian couples from adopting. Similarly, there is no specific language that says only married couples can jointly adopt children. However, family court judges across the state have denied petitions of gay couples to jointly adopt children, claiming that Michigan's adoption statute limits joint adoptions to married couples and since gay couples cannot marry in Michigan, they are ineligible to jointly adopt. An examination of the actual language of the statute, demonstrates that this interpretation is simply false. Michigan's adoption law merely requires that if a person who petitions to adopt a child is married, that the spouse must be joined in the adoption petition.

It's important as Michigan Adoption Day nears, that we send Michigan judges, our elected officials and decision makers at the Department of Human Services a clear message that adoption decisions should be made based on what is in the best interests of a child and not the marital status of people who wish to adopt.

We shouldn't use our children as political pawns.

Jay Kaplan is staff attorney with ACLU of Michigan's LGBT Project. He can be reached by email: jkaplan@aclumich.org

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