Adoption Day painful for LGBT families

'Corrigan rule' denies legal rights to kids in need

By Kate Opalewski

While Michigan's Ninth Annual Adoption Day on Nov. 22 is something to celebrate, many families that want to adopt are feeling left out.

"Hundreds of children across the state have the legal protection of only one of their two parents, simply because not a single judge in Michigan is routinely granting second-parent adoptions. And children are sadly put into this position in the first place because same-sex couples are not able to jointly adopt children in Michigan," says Kathleen LaTosch, special projects consultant at Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Ferndale.

Second-parent adoption means that "two unmarried persons (could) petition to adopt a child," according to the original language in HB-4131. The bill, introduced into the House in February 2009, would have allowed same-sex couples, who are not allowed to marry in Michigan, to become legal parents if the bill passed.

However, the bill did not pass and the LGBT community has former Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan to hold responsible. Same-sex couples used to be allowed to adopt if they found a judge who would grant it. Then, in Washtenaw County in 2002, Corrigan decided this wasn't going to happen anymore in courts around the state. What is known as the "Corrigan rule" caused county offices throughout the state to stop allowing same-sex couples from adopting.

"With domestic partner benefits on the chopping block in Michigan, this poses significant health risks for the entire family - to the child whose non-legal parent is unable to provide insurance to their children, to the partner who is unable to secure insurance benefits through his or her spouse's employer," says LaTosch.

Since this rule was ordered, state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), and state Senator Rebekah Warren (D-18), have re-introduced a bill into the House in February that would allow the state to grant second-parent adoptions.

As the bill languishes in the Republican controlled house, many questions are being brought to the forefront. What happens if the couple splits up? What protections are offered to the child? What happens to the child if one parent dies?

"In Michigan, there are countless stories of children being separated from a non-legal parent, with no on-going visitation, custody or financial child support required. If it's the non-legal parent, the "normal" social security benefits are denied to that child. Any rights to inheritance or property will have to go through lengthy and expensive probate actions in the court systems. If the legal parent dies, any number of interested parties could step in and request custody and guardianship of the children, denying any further contact with the non-legal parent," says LaTosch.

Corrigan is now the Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, which regulates adoptions (among many other services), and is slated to speak at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing on Nov. 22 along with Gov. Ricky Snyder and Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr.

As designated by the Michigan Supreme Court, the goal of the event, co-sponsored by the Michigan DHS, is to draw attention to children and youth in foster care, particularly their need for permanent, loving families, and also to promote efforts to help those who remain in foster care. About 30 of Michigan's 83 counties are expected to participate this year, finalizing an anticipated 200 adoptions.

But this doesn't include second-parent adoptions.

"The easiest fix would be to simply legalize gay marriage. Adoption issues would become moot. In lieu of this, there is another simple solution. Simply putting into law that 'two unmarried individuals are permitted to adopt' would fix this," says LaTosch. "Just seven little words...seven little words that could make or break a family in Michigan."

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