Updated: Marriage Equality is not a fix-all for Adoption

UPDATE: Judge Friedman heard oral arguments in the case on 10/16 and ruled that there were “issues of fact” to be decided and that, consequently, he needed to conduct a trial.  Both sides will need to produce witnesses and the trial will be conducted beginning on February 25, 2014. We will keep you posted as the case proceeds.

A federal judge (Friedman) in Michigan may rule as early as tomorrow in the DoBoer/Rowse adoption and same-sex marriage case.  As a resident of Michigan, and as an attorney who supports and works for these issues around the nation, I sincerely hope he rules in this family’s favor on all counts. I hope he overturns the anti-marriage constitutional amendment adopted by Michigan voters in 2004. I also hope he sees that providing security for this couple’s three special needs children should not be based on the relationship of their parents to one another.

Family Equality Council strongly supports the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.  We also strongly believe that same-sex couples should not have to access the institution of marriage in order to provide the maximum security to their children. We were proud to sign onto the Amicus Brief, filed by the ACLU, in this case that makes it clear that marriage should not be the exclusive gateway to legal parenthood.

As we said in that brief:

“As further evidence that marriage is not a predicate to second parent adoption, it is also instructive that while [Michigan’s Attorney General] assert[s] that second parent adoptions are not available in Michigan, courts in many other jurisdictions with adoption statutes similar to Michigan’s, such as California, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, the District of Columbia and Delaware, have construed those statutes to allow second parent adoption, despite the fact that at the time these decisions were issued, none of those states allowed same-sex couples to legally marry. In addition, a number of states have passed legislation that expressly permits second parent adoptions, without regard to the marital status of the parents.”

The children of same-sex couples deserve the same protections that children of opposite-sex couples enjoy, irrespective of the legal relationship of the adults.  Same sex families are formed in myriad ways.  In many cases, as with this family, they are formed through adoption.  Here, April DoBoer and Jayne Rowse (both registered nurses) have adopted three special needs children.  But, because of the way Michigan’s adoption law has been interpreted, each of the children has legal ties to only one of their parents. Thus, if something should happen to one of the parents, the child(ren) of that parent could re-enter the foster care/adoption system as a ward of the state since the other parent is a legal stranger, unable to even plead her case as the children’s parent in court. 

This is a tragedy that happens all the time, in states like Michigan, that deny to same-sex couples – and their children –recognition that both parents are legal parents.  Judge Friedman can change that tomorrow – even if he fails to make marriage available to all Michiganders.