Sunday, June 17, 2007

Second-parent adoption in MI

Bill sparks culture war
Proposal would allow second adult in nontraditional family to adopt

Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News (c) 2007

SOUTHFIELD -- Karen Oosterhous is due to give birth to her first child in July and wants her lesbian partner to adopt him, so he can have a second legal parent.

But Michigan law only allows married couples and single people to adopt children, prompting legislation to allow adoptions by a second adult raising a child in a nontraditional family -- including unmarried couples, the partners of gay couples or two relatives.

The issue has ignited a culture war between religious conservatives and children's advocates. Opponents say gay couples are inappropriate adoptive parents and changing the law would threaten the institution of marriage.

"The state should not be lowering their standards so they can unload kids in homes that are not healthy for them," said Brian Rooney, spokesman for the conservative Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor.

Advocates counter that gay people already can adopt children in Michigan, and they provide loving homes.

"This is not a gay issue at all," said Sean Kosofsky of the Triangle Foundation, a gay advocacy organization. "It is about children's rights."

'I can't tell you the sadness'

The effort, known as second parent adoptions, is aimed at providing more prospective parents to the 4,500 foster children available for adoption in Michigan, advocates say.

They also say changing the law would offer children who are being raised in nontraditional homes options for better health care, backup benefits in the event of the death or disability of the primary caregiver and a second person who can legally handle emergency or everyday decisions.

"As of now, my partner does not have any legal rights to our child," said Oosterhous, 36.
"That covers so many things, even the right to pick him up from day care."

As an attorney who previously did pro-bono work for hospice organizations, bill sponsor Rep. Paul Condino, D-Southfield, had to tell dying mothers that they would have to relinquish their rights to their children in order for their unmarried partners to adopt and raise them.

"I can't tell you the sadness," said Condino, adding it has bipartisan support in the House and support is growing in the Senate.

Many child welfare agencies also support it because they often work with relatives and unmarried partners caring for children.

"We can license live-together partners to foster children," said Robert Ennis, head of the Ennis Center for Children. "They have these kids for three or four years. Then we have to tell them -- 'Only one of you can adopt.' It's ridiculous. How you can you be good enough to be foster parents but only one of you can adopt?"

Best interests of child cited

Second parent adoption laws have been passed in nine states, and a handful of other states are considering similar legislation. Local supporters include the State Bar of Michigan Family Law Section, the Michigan Department of Human Services and Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

"The best interests of children are always paramount," said Liz Boyd, Granholm's spokeswoman.

But last month when legislation was voted out of the House Judiciary subcommittee, religious conservatives began fighting it.

"We think the law should be changed to not allow homosexuals to adopt as individuals," said Gary Glenn, head of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan. "It is not in the best interest of the child."

Brad Snavely, executive director of the Michigan Family Forum, added: "It's really not about whether unmarried people love children or can care adequately for children. The legislation would undermine the institution of marriage."

If opponents of the legislation invest the same amount of energy into recruiting adoptive parents or adopting children themselves as they do fighting gays, Michigan's foster care caseload could be dramatically reduced, said Beverly Davidson, head of the Coalition for Adoption Rights Equality, which is working to pass the law.

"We have too many kids in desperate situations to be spewing that kind of nonsense," Davidson said. "It's an abomination they want to spend their money and time to ban kids from getting adopted."

Impact on foster kids

In 2006, 2,589 children were adopted from Michigan's foster care system. Of those, 1,621 went to married couples, 907 to single females and 61 to single males.

An internal analysis by the Michigan Department of Human Services showed second parent adoptions, if approved, likely wouldn't have an impact on the state's foster children available for adoption, spokeswoman Maureen Sorbet said.

Even so, Debraha Watson, a former foster child who aged out of the system, supports the legislation.

The five foster homes Watson lived in were headed by married couples, but she was abused sexually in one and physically in another.

"It's about stability for the child and having a person that can provide them with guidance and direction and love," said Watson, a Westland resident. "You cannot blanketly say only a traditional mother and father can give that."

You can reach Kim Kozlowski at (313) 222-2024 or

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