Second-Parent Adoption Was the Only Option My Wife Had to Gain Parental Rights of Our Kid
Same-sex couples continue to face hurdles when it comes to building a family. That includes the need for second-parent adoption, which ensures the non-biological parent has legal rights to their child. I know firsthand how difficult and draining that process is. And now, as the Trump administration pushes to remove protections from same-sex couples wanting to adopt, I wonder if the battle will just get worse.
“How would describe your parenting style?" I had no clue how to answer that question. My baby was just a few weeks old. We were still in the fourth trimester and I couldn't tell day from night or what the source of the stain on my shirt might be.
I hadn't even fully accepted that I was a parent, let alone have the wherewithal to assess my parenting style. "Ask me in 10 years," I wanted to say, but I couldn't.
I was afraid that even a poorly received joke could cost us. The person asking the question was a social worker, a state-sanctioned hire who had come into our home to determine whether my wife, the non-biological parent, was fit to parent the child she was already raising. This stranger sat in our home for hours, firing intense and invasive questions, even toward me, the one who grew our baby from my egg in my womb. We had to pay her more than $1,000 out-of-pocket for her required visit. And her report, based on that one visit, would go to a judge who would determine whether to grant my wife a second-parent adoption.
If my wife were a man, we would be the presumed legal parents from the moment the baby was born, regardless of whether the male was biologically related to the baby. But since we're both female, the only path to ensure that our family is fully protected was to pursue an expensive and intensive adoption process that took nearly a year, thousands of dollars, lawyers, court dates, and background checks.
That needs to change, especially in a time when the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) has doubled in the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “ART allows for more children to be born without a biological connection to one of their parents," says Risa A. Levine, a New York-based attorney and board member for Resolve: The National Infertility Association, a nationwide company helping those attempting to build a family. And simplifying the adoption by the non-biological parent doesn’t only benefit the parents, she says. It also “creates more security for the child and a more stable home life.”
My wife and I were married in New York in 2013 before charting out a path to have a baby together, so there is legal precedent that would presume my wife to be my legal co-parent, but that doesn't offer blanket protection. "You need something more than just the name on a birth certificate because if you cross state lines even on vacation and something comes up, if you move and separate, or if your wife and child end up in the hospital and you try to exercise your rights as a parent to make decisions and someone challenges that, the only way you can prevail is by having a court order," says Denise E. Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer for Family Equality, a group that is leading the charge on equal protections for LGBTQ families nationally.
The problem is that the hurdles to secure second-parent adoption, such as time, effort, and sheer cost, limit who can access that path. The laws also vary greatly by state, which can make it difficult for any person—let alone a family with a newborn baby—to navigate. For example, some states require same-sex couples be married in order to complete second-parent adoption. And LGBTQ couples tend to have a harder time than opposite-sex couples, who also may need to seek a second parent adoption if one parent isn’t biologically related to the child, because of discrimination.
That’s nothing new as LGBTQ families who choose to foster or adopt have historically faced an uphill battle. The climate was starting to get better for same-sex couples wanting to adopt a child, particularly after President Obama's administration secured protections on the basis of gender and sexual identity that prohibited agencies that take government funds from discriminating against same-sex families. But President Trump recently proposed to remove those protections from the Health and Human Services (HHS) policy, making way for potential, future discrimination against both LGBTQ adoptive parents, as well as kids in the foster care system who identify as LGBTQ and who may find themselves in religious or anti-LGBTQ home.
"This means that agencies can now freely say without citing any underlying reason for it, we don't serve your kind here, and turn prospective qualified families away," says Brogan-Kator.
Free license to turn LGBTQ families away means that many of the more of the 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States won't find a home. What's more, the policy change will create an environment in which LGBTQ kids in the foster care system are less likely to find affirming homes. And we know that LGBTQ kids who are rejected because of who they are face higher rates of depression.
The policy change is not yet in place but may be following a public comment period. There is talk of legal action that could also halt the proposed change.
Bottom line: Having or adopting a child isn't radical or immoral. It isn't any different from what opposite-sex couples have been doing for millennia. In fact, there is nothing closer to so-called traditional family values than wanting to grow your family in a loving, supportive home.