Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

May 14,  2007  



Debates over unmarried adoptions heating up

By Thomas F. Coleman

Legislative battles are heating up in several states this year over adoption rights.  And if predictions by USA Today prove to be true, legislators and voters from coast to coast soon may be voting on measures to ban unmarried couples from adopting children. 

According to Andrea Stone, political correspondent for USA Today, conservatives see these adoption bans as a new tactic to stir things up in 2007 and to bring their supporters to the polls in swing states in 2008. 

The USA Today story said that bills and ballot measures were being drafted in 16 states.

Republicans might use adoption as a wedge issue in close Senate and governor races, said political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.

"Now that we've defined what marriage is, we need to take that further and say children deserve to be in that relationship," Greg Quinlan of Ohio's Pro-Family Network, a conservative Christian group, told USA Today.

The debates are now in state legislatures.  Next year the action will be at election polls.

Whether an unmarried couple may adopt a child has been a gray area of law in most states.  Over the years, the gray has turned to black and white in about half the states, while the other half still have murky legal waters.

Second-parent adoptions, as they are often called, are specifically allowed by statute or appellate court decisions in ten states: California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. They are also permitted in some counties in at least fifteen other states.

While the legal trend seems to be toward approving such adoptions, appellate courts in Colorado, Ohio, Nebraska, and Wisconsin have held they are not permissible.

This year, debates over unmarried adoptions have erupted in Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, and New Hampshire. 

"This bill is about acting in the best interest of the child and promoting parental responsibilities and creating a stable economic environment for children,"  Rep. Alice Madden, D-Boulder, told the Rocky Mountain News after her bill to allow second-parent adoptions passed its first committee in the Colorado House of Representatives on March 8. 

The Arkansas Senate voted on a bill in March to prohibit cohabiting unmarried couples from adopting an unrelated child.  The measure died in the House of Representatives.

Representative Paul Condino introduced a bill into the Michigan Legislature in February to allow unmarried second-parent adoptions.  The bill would overturn an Attorney General opinion issued last year concluding that state law prohibits unmarried couples from jointly adopting a child.

The New Hampshire Legislature is currently considering a bill to clarify second-parent adoptions by unmarried couples in that state.  Judges in six counties have ruled that such adoptions are legal while those in four other counties have ruled just the opposite.

If the bill passes, two unmarried adults in a "familial relationship" could adopt a child together. Familial relationship would require the adults to share a home as well as "economic interdependence."

In Nebraska a bill to legalize adoptions by unmarried couples has been placed on hold.  It was introduced in January and set for a hearing in the Judiciary Committee on March 1, but the hearing was then abruptly cancelled without explanation.

The Indiana Supreme Court stirred things up in that state last year when it issued a 4 to 1 decision allowing adoptions by unmarried couples.  Those who cheered the decision are now concerned that a proposed ballot measure to outlaw gay marriage may also change this adoption precedent.

An amendment to the Indiana Constitution, working its way through the state Legislature, would not only prohibit same-sex marriage but limit the rights of unmarried couples as well.  It was approved in February by a 39-10 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The outcome of these adoption debates will have significant national ramifications.  About 32 percent of all adoptions in the United States are by unmarried adults.

Voters and lawmakers considering these issues would do well to keep in mind an observation once made by New York's highest court. 

The New York Court of Appeals declared that public policy should be "encouraging the adoption of as many children as possible regardless of the sexual orientation or marital status of the individuals seeking to adopt them."

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Unmarried America 2007

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.