Adopting a family: court decisions and perseverance opened the doors more than ever in 1997 for gays looking to be parents.
In late October a New Jersey judge ruled that two gay men could adopt a 2-year-old boy who had been in their care as a foster child since he was 3 months old -- despite a state law prohibiting joint adoptions by unmarried couples. The case focused national attention on an area of gay parenting that previously had drawn little public scrutiny: legal adoptions by gay men and lesbians.
Part of the reason the subject has received little attention is that it is a broad-ranging concept that defies easy definition. "Gay adoption" can involve single parents or partners; orphans, children in foster care, or the offspring of surrogate mothers and sperm donors; infants or adolescents; and lawyers, social workers, and agencies here and abroad.
Despite all that, though, gay adoption simply stirs the hopes of men and women who never before had the chance to be fathers and mothers. And it opens the door for future generations of boys and girls to be part of loving, legal families.
Gay adoption is so new that most state statutes do not address the subject. Some states expressly allow it; only two -- Florida and New Hampshire -- specifically prohibit it. In most states the law is ambiguous.
Precise statistics are elusive. Many gay adoptions are handled privately; some cross state even international -- borders; and in most cases gays still wear the guise of single straight parents when adopting. Nevertheless, it's possible to draw some conclusions.
Wayne Steinman, adoption resource coordinator for New York City-based Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International, says about 80% of gay adoptive parents are male. "Women have the option of producing children; guys don't," he notes. "The number of men adopting has grown dramatically in the past ten years, especially in urban areas. Men now see it as a viable option."
Viable, but not easy. At the very least gay parenting requires some forethought; at most it calls for plenty of support personnel and money. "A gay person wanting to adopt today has to prove [he or she has] adequate finances, good health, emotional stability, proper motivation, and parenting skills," says Michael Adams, counsel for the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Many straight couples would not qualify."
Gay couples have four basic routes they can follow in their attempts to adopt a child unrelated to either partner (adopting a partner's biological child -- called "second-parent adoptions" -- is another matter entirely). One is public adoption, through foster care or orphanages. This process is time-consuming and highly regulated, often involving layers of bureaucracy, but it is the least expensive method. Public adoption can be free; some states even pay part of the cost. Some social service agencies, however, may be unwilling to place children with gay parents.
The second method is through a private domestic adoption agency. This can be quicker but expensive: $15,000 to $25,000. State laws vary -- as do the sympathy levels of judges who must finalize each adoption.
The third method is independent adoption. Prospective parents advertise for a birth mother, then pursue legal adoption with the help of an attorney. This takes time, is fraught with uncertainties, and can cost $15,000 to $25,000, including living expenses for the birth mother.
The fourth method, international adoption, is "the method of choice at the moment," Steinman says. These adoptions, facilitated by private agencies here and abroad, take place in the country of birth; upon return, parents apply for U.S. citizenship for the child. "There is no fear of losing the child to the birth mother. It's irrevocable," Steinman explains. It is also expensive: sometimes more than $25,000, including travel expenses and fees for intermediaries. This method is especially popular with lesbians who cannot or do not want to bear children. Still, while many foreign countries allow babies to be adopted by single women -- because females are seen as nurturers -- men seeking to adopt are regarded suspiciously.
There is no one best way to adopt, Steinman insists. "Everyone makes choices from their own perspective," he says. "All options are valid. It's a question of your own personal situation."
The New Jersey case is a source of pride for Adams and the ACLU. Because a two-step adoption procedure (first one parent, then the other) would have been financially and emotionally burdensome, Jon Holden and Michael Galluccio applied together in March 1995 to adopt their foster child, Adam, who had been born to a woman infected with HIV. Fifteen months later, when they received a consent letter bearing only one of their names, they realized there was a problem.
After fruitless negotiations with state authorities, Holden and Galluccio contacted the ACLU. The organization asked the court one question -- "Why is it in the best interest of the child to have only one legal parent?" -- but got no answer. Several months later Bergen County, N.J., superior court judge Sybil R. Moses ruled in the couple's favor, saying the joint adoption was best for the child. (Despite her decision, however, the state law against joint adoption by unmarried couples remains in effect and is being challenged in a separate lawsuit.)
The judge's decision is significant for two reasons, Holden says. "Number one, our son is protected 100%. If anything happens to one of us, legally he'll be OK. Number two, it is clear she put the best interests of the child at heart. That's a huge step for all kids. "
Not far from Holden and Galluccio, just outside New York City, live Robin Shlakman and Dee Hoole, reportedly the first lesbian couple in the country to cross-adopt each other's children. The father of both children, a straight man, was a friend who donated his sperm to each of the women. When the cross-adoption was finalized last March, he surrendered all paternal rights.
It was an arduous process. Along the way the women came out publicly and endured unexpected media attention, but they don't regret it. "We've always considered ourselves a family; now legally it's true," Shlakman says. "Both girls are on my health insurance, and if anything happens to either of us, they'll get Social Security."
In another Northeastern state, "Brandy" and "Chloe" (not their real names) handled their two-parent adoption differently. Brandy utilized the services of a sperm bank for her artificial insemination, but when Chloe began adoption proceedings, they realized that laws in their home state would make adoption impossible. So they moved to nearby Massachusetts, which not only allows such adoptions but also will waive the six-month residency requirement for a "compelling reason" (theirs was getting their daughter on Chloe's health insurance). Brandy's parents resisted the idea. Says Chloe: "It brought up issues about our lesbian relationship -- they had to explain to people who this other person was in their daughter's life. I also think they were worried I might try to take the baby away or that my adopting her meant Brandy gave something up." It took several months before Brandy's parents realized none of that was true.
Though Doug Robinson considers the mid'80s, when he adopted his first child, a comparatively backward era, as a professional African-American man seeking to adopt a minority youngster, he was welcomed with open arms. (Of 500,000 children in foster care nationwide, up to 90% are black or Latino.) Robinson did not tell anyone involved that he's gay. "Friends in the system said that all agencies discriminated illegally. They'd accept your application but wouldn't place a kid in your home," he says. His son Justin is now 12.
In 1990, when Robinson -- a bank executive and, as a district school board member, the first openly gay African-American elected official in New York City -- asked to adopt a second child, he got Zachary, now 9, the same day. He was more open than he had been at the time of the first adoption, but he still did not involve his partner. Today, he says, they would apply as a couple.
Robinson speaks on college campuses about the subject. "When I was [in college], gay adoption wasn't an option," he says wistfully. Part of coming out meant you couldn't have kids. Today, it's important to know that your life as a potential parent doesn't stop the minute you come out. In fact, it's just beginning. Coming out now actually opens doors to being a parent."
The road to adoption can sometimes lead far afield, as Jill Werfel found last summer. The 31-year-old sales executive from the New York City area and her partner of ten years, social worker Sharon Cuff, favored international adoption because foreign birth mothers cannot rescind their decisions and because they knew that U.S. foster care agencies do not always welcome lesbians. They also wanted an infant (most foster care children are older) and decided it would be easier for one of them-Cuff-to adopt as a single mother. They chose Russia, Werfel's grandfather's homeland, and threw themselves into the process.
In March they received a videotape of a baby girl and had to make a quick decision. They said yes and then waited two months. In May, Cuff was given four days to obtain a visa, buy a plane ticket, and get herself to Russia. The couple also had to purchase many baby clothes and accessories as well as gifts for orphanage workers, social workers, and judges. An interpreter/driver shepherded Cuff through the bureaucratic maze for the 11 days she was in Russia.
"Now we're in paradise," Werfel reports. "Our daughter, Rise, is amazing -- healthy and beautiful. We were prepared for developmental delays or physical problems. She's small compared to American babies, but she's doing fantastic."
An adoption story involving domestic travel begins in California. Jeff, 30, and Bruce, 33 -- lawyers who do not want their last names used -- found an attorney whose national "birth mother outreach program" advertisements produce a steady stream of pregnant women seeking to put their babies up for adoption. For couples wishing to adopt, the service is "faster than other options and more expensive," Jeff says. "The attorney does all the screening, verifies the pregnancy, and works with the adoption agency." Jeff and Bruce sent out a "Dear Birth Mother" letter containing information about their lives, along with photos. It was "really a marketing brochure," Jeff says. "That sounds crass, but it's true." Nevertheless, it worked. In October a woman in another state picked Jeff and Bruce after reading their letter. The woman wanted her baby to be placed in a nontraditional family, Jeff says: "She thinks open-minded people make better parents, and she knows gay couples have a hard time finding kids, so she wants to help."
Jeff and Bruce's home county allows joint adoptions, but the state where the baby's mother lives prohibits adoption by unmarried couples or single parents. So the two men are paying for her to travel to California several weeks before delivery. The cost adds up: $8,000 for the lawyer; $6,000 to $15,000 for hospitalization; $3,000 to the adoption agency; and an as-yet-undetermined amount to the birth mother. Bruce and Jeff's baby is due early in 1998.
Not all adoption stories end happily. Denise, a 44-year-old Midwestern teacher, and her partner of ten years wanted to use a known sperm donor so that their child would have the "spiritual peace" of knowing its father while as parents they would fully know their child's medical history. Two years later they found a donor through mutual friends. The man was healthy and in a long-term, monogamous gay relationship. He assured them he did not want to be a parent. An attorney drew up a contract stipulating that the donor would never pursue paternity and never be contacted for child support. A "best interests of the child" agreement stipulated that the biological father would see the child, though not in a parental role. "He would be known as a donor, not a daddy," Denise says.
After Denise bore a girl in 1993, she and her partner began joint adoption proceedings. The father supported the motion in court. But a year later he returned to court, saying he had changed his mind. Last June he was awarded paternity rights; later he demanded custody. Denise's partner became depressed. They split up, and now she too is competing for custody.
I'll appeal for years if necessary, "Denise vows." I'm not going to let my daughter play three-way musical chairs." If she had it to do over, she says, she would use sperm from an unknown man.
The sound of the gayby boom -- and the resulting echo of adoption proceedings -- is reverberating throughout the country, the pitch differing from state to state and family to family. Each situation is unique. But adoptive parents everywhere smile when they hear about Jonathan and Robert Cooper, a gay couple who share a last name, a suburban home near New York City, and five adoptive children, ages 3 to 12. "We're a sight: two guys pushing a triple stroller, with two other kids tagging along," Jonathan says, laughing. But whenever anyone makes a heterosexist comment -- "Wives out shopping?" -- the Coopers answer truthfully: "We're partners, and they're all ours." The response is always positive and has nothing to do with their being gay, Jonathan observes: "'Wow, I really admire you guys,' people say. 'I could never have five kids!'"
Gay and lesbian community service centers are one of the best sources of information about gay adoption, says Wayne Steinman, adoption resource coordinator for Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International. Community centers that offer services for prospective parents include:
* Fenway Community Health Center (Lesbian and Gay Family and Parenting Services), Boston: (617) 267-0900
* Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (Maybe Baby Program): (213) 461-2633
* Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center (Center Kids), New York City: (212) 620-7310
* Family Project, San Francisco: (415) 436-9000
The World Wide Web provides another network of adoption resources, Steinman says. Helpful sites include:
* Family Q: http://www.studio8prod.com/familyq
* Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International: http://www.glpci.org
* The Lesbian Mom's Web Par. http://www.lesbian.org/moms
* Queer Resources Directory: http://www.qrd.org/qrd
Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition international also publishes a resource directory and a Lesbian and Gay Adoption Reading Packet. For more information, call (202) 583-8029 or E-mail email@example.com.
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|Title Annotation:||includes list of information sources|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Jan 20, 1998|
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