By Allana Akhtar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 2, 2015
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) proposed a bill on Thursday to legalize unwed, two-parent adoption in Michigan. The issue originally catalyzed what is soon to be a U.S. Supreme Court case, DeBoer v. Snyder, challenging the constitutionality of Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.
Before taking their case to state and federal court, Hazel Park residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse were barred from completing a second-parent adoption for their child. Though the two initially sought to challenge this law, the case shifted to a broader consideration of same-sex marriage.
A couple would opt for two-parent adoption if one member is either the biological parent of a child or the sole legal guardian in an adoption. The other member of the couple would not be either, but wishes to legally adopt the child so as to officially be recognized as its parent.
Irwin’s legislation, House Bill 4133, would guarantee the same benefits to children of single parents or unmarried couples as those given to children of married couples. These benefits include health insurance, authorization for medical care and continued care by one parent in case of the death or separation of the other.
“Studies have shown the importance to children of maintaining a safe, loving home with two stable parents,” Irwin said in a statement. “This bill will ensure that more children in Michigan can enjoy benefits of two parents who share all of the rights and responsibilities of parenthood.”
In March 2014, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban, allowing more than 300 couples to obtain marriage licenses. Later, the Sixth Circuit Court ordered a stay and later upheld the ban.
The U.S. Supreme Court will review the case, as well as similar cases from Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, this spring.
Irwin said he first became interested in the legality of second-parent adoption when he worked as a commissioner in Washtenaw County. He said, in 2004, a local judge was granting adoption to same-sex parents until the Michigan court caught wind and ruled that all judges were prohibited from such action.
Because of the “direct, local impact” Washtenaw County faced, Irwin saw the importance of granting second-parent adoption and decided to pursue the issue throughout his career.
“It was a tragedy here at the local level and we were now not allowed to reflect our local responsibility,” he added.
He first introduced the bill to Michigan Congress in 2011 upon winning a seat in the Michigan House that year.
Brad O’Conner, president of the Jim Toy Community Center, a resource for LGBTQ residents of Washtenaw County, lauded Irwin’s continual persistence in bringing up the issue in the face of continued pushback from opposing members in the Michigan legislature.
O’Conner said by not passing this bill and similar bills, Republican representatives allow discrimination to persist within the state.
“They have no interest in passing this; they would rather go as far right as possible,” he said.
Irwin said the bill is modeled after other states with similar laws, such as Oregon, California and Wisconsin.
Irwin added that though the discussion has become directed at LGBTQ couples, in reality there are many couples that would wish to second-parent adopt, including other family members or unmarried straight couples.
“It’s very sad because once again you have parents who are trying to step up to adopt children, in some cases very needy children, and the state is trying to prevent them from taking accountability for these kids,” he said.
O’Conner said even if same-sex marriage is legalized in the state, there is still more work to be done for LGBTQ rights.
“We might have marriage equality but we still don’t have secondary adoption, we still don’t have protections in workplace,” O’Conner said. “You can get married but you can still be fired for being gay.”