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For gay and lesbian families in Michigan, one parent is left out

Love-Ramirez family

In Michigan, if you’re gay or lesbian, you can’t get married.

And for LGBT partners who adopt children it’s nearly impossible for both to have parental rights. That causes legal difficulties in providing a secure future for the kids they’re raising.

Two-year-old Lucas has two dads, Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez.

Diego is an airline pilot, and Kent works at Michigan State University.

“We’ve been together just over ten years. And we married in a religious ceremony five years ago and just legally married in Washington, D.C.," said Kent.

Kent and Diego are the only parents Lucas has ever known. But, the State of Michigan does not recognize one of them as a parent.

"Both of us were present when Lucas was born. Diego cut the umbilical cord. I was the first person to hold Lucas. We left the hospital with him. We were selected by the birth family to be Lucas’ adoptive parents," explained Kent.

"Yet the state does not recognize [both of us as parents]. And that's incredibly unfortunate, first and foremost for Lucas."

"Yet the state does not recognize that. And that’s incredibly unfortunate, first and foremost for Lucas, but certainly secondly unfortunate for us."

The Love-Ramirez couple did not want to reveal which one of them is the adoptive parent of Lucas.

They’ve worked hard to make sure they both can be a father to him. They could afford to hire lawyers to help them jump through a lot of legal hoops to make sure that they can take him to the doctor, pick him up from daycare, ensure the little boy’s future is as secure as legally possible.

Not everyone has that kind of money.

There’s also concern about what might happen to Lucas if the adoptive parent were to die.

So, they both want to be adoptive parents, but they cannot find a judge in Michigan who’ll grant second-parent adoption.

State Representative Jeff Irwin has introduced legislation to change that.

“Well, my bill would allow for judges, if they felt it was in the best interest of the child, to grant adoptions to two unmarried individuals. And this is important in many cases where individuals can’t marry, either because the state constitution prevents same-sex couple from marrying or because there might be families where maybe someone’s working on a divorce or other particular circumstances like that,” Representative Irwin explained.

This is not the first time Irwin has introduced this legislation. It’s never passed.

Although there's a lot of talk in Lansing about making kids safe and secure, when it comes to gay and lesbian couples, politics and attitudes about sexual orientation end that conversation.

Although there’s a lot of talk in Lansing about making kids safe and secure, when it comes to gay and lesbian couples, politics and attitudes about sexual orientation end that conversation.

Emily Dievendorf is Managing Director at Equality Michigan. She says a lot of studies are cited indicating children do better when they have a mother and a father, but there are also studies that indicate kids with two fathers or two mothers do just as well.

“So, at the very least, all studies seem to be pointing to the fact is that what we need is two loving parents. And, studies fall short in terms of determining what that gender combination is. Why do we care? We should care about the quality of the parent,” Dievendorf said.

The two parents of two-year-old Lucas say they just want to be there for their boy. Kent Love-Ramirez says that’s what all parents want.

“I do believe that a loving environment is what’s necessary to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child whether that be a single parent, whether that be a heterosexual two-parent family, a homosexual two-parent family, grandparents, whatever. It’s all about the loving environment you provide. But, with that said, it is very difficult for us to be in a two-parent family and not have that recognized.”

And it’s estimated there are thousands of families in Michigan like this who are hoping for that legal recognition.

This is the first story in a three part series. Tune in to Michigan Radio today or click on the link below for part two.

Did you know there was a time when some Michigan judges did grant second-parent adoptions? Read part two to find out why that’s changed.

Part 2: How judges were stopped from granting two-parent adoptions to gay and lesbian parents

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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