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

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Credit Washtenaw County
Washtenaw County
Judge Nancy C. Wheeler granted second-parent adoptions to unmarried couples. The practice was stopped by the Michigan Supreme Court although there was no case before that court.

About a decade ago, judges stopped approving adoptions for lesbian and gay couples. It stopped after a controversial move by a Supreme Court Judge.

Nancy Wheeler is a judge in Washtenaw County who used to preside over the juvenile court where adoptions are recognized. She granted dozens of what are called ‘second-parent adoptions’ to same-sex couples.

“I thought that it was an outrage that we encouraged and, in fact, had a lot of gay and lesbian foster parents, but didn’t allow both parties to adopt the children. So, these children had been in foster care with these same parents sometimes for a number of years and then they were adopted by one,” Judge Wheeler explained.

She reasoned if one person could be an adoptive parent, then two could.

Her successor in the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court continued the practice. Then things got sketchy.

In 2002, Maura Corrigan was the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. According to reports, she contacted the Chief Judge of the Washtenaw County Court and told him to put a stop to second-parent adoptions. He tried. The juvenile court judge refused. So, the chief judge took over adoptions himself and stopped it.

Judge Wheeler says the interference by the Supreme Court was out of line.

“They were fiddling in a case where a judge had made a decision and had followed a process. And, if it was wrong, they should have waited for someone to appeal it.”

We’ve been unable to determine whether there’s any judge who’ll grant the adoptions today or how the issue might be complicated by a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage or similar unions.

Jay Kaplan is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union says he sees nothing in law stopping judges from granting the joint adoptions.

“The law doesn’t say that and there’s no Michigan case law that says that.”

And Kaplan says Michigan’s practice of not granting joint adoption means less security for adopted kids.

“These laws that prohibit same-sex couples from getting married or from their families, recognizing child/parent relationships, they have economic consequences.”

Such as, kids don’t have the additional security that a legal second parent could offer.

Anti-gay rights activists agree kids do better in a two-parent household. But they oppose allowing that second person to be the same gender.

Anti-gay rights activists agree kids do better in a two-parent household. But they oppose allowing that second person to be the same gender.

James Muffett is President of Citizens for Traditional Values.

“If you want to do what’s best for kids, you strengthen traditional one man-one woman marriage and not try to find other ways, other constructs, or other arrangements for kids to live in,” Muffett said.

He says a second same gender parent would not be good for the adopted kids or society.

Gary Glenn with American Family Association – Michigan says second-parent adoptions by gay or lesbian parents would hurt kids.

“I’m just saying every social science study ever done says that the healthiest environment in which a child can be raised is by a mother and a father who are committed to each other and the children in marriage. We should not similarly benefit or encourage relationships which on purpose deny a child either a mother or a father.” (Here and here are a examples of studies of the type Glenn references.)

Well, not every study says that. We checked. (See here and here for a couple of examples.)

Amanda Shelton is an attorney. She and her partner are also lesbian moms. When they decided to have children, Amanda was the birth mother and they went to another state to make sure her partner was a legal parent too.

"You've always been parents to these children, but you have to jump through these hoops..."

"Frankly it’s weird. You know, it’s weird to go through this adoption process, interviewed by these people, be asked all these questions when you’re already a parent to these children. You’ve always been parents to these children, but you have to jump through these hoops and frankly incur a lot of financial costs," Shelton said.

She says prohibiting lesbian and gay couples from jointly adopting only hurts the kids. She says this is simply anti-gay bigotry and the arguments against it don’t stand up to scrutiny.

“They’re the same arguments that these people have always made. And, you can’t argue with crazy. So, if they don’t want to deal with the reality that our families are here, they’re here to stay–we’re not going away–that’s their choice.”

Part 1: For gay and lesbian families in Michigan, one parent is left out

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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