Almost 8,000 children in Michigan currently live in foster care, waiting to find stable homes with loving parents. However, Michigan law prohibits unmarried couples from jointly adopting children, shrinking an already limited supply of permanent homes. A new bill introduced by State Rep. Paul Condino (D-Southfield) would allow for unmarried partners, including gays and lesbians, to jointly adopt a child and share legal custody. The bill’s passage would both expand same-sex couples’ rights and place more children in stable families.
If this second-parent adoption legislation is passed, it will mark an improvement in granting rights to gay and lesbian couples. When Proposal 2 made it unlawful for the state to recognize domestic partnerships and civil unions in Michigan, same-sex couples were denied rights heterosexual couples receive. In terms of adopting children, gay and lesbian couples – legally unable to marry – could not jointly adopt. Condino’s legislation would be one small victory for same-sex couples working to claim the rights they deserve.
The new bill would also benefit all unmarried couples when one partner already has a biological child. Presently, the nonbiological partner cannot adopt the child and share custody without marriage. Regardless of the partner’s role in the child’s life, if the biological parent dies, the partner has little legal leverage should a custody battle arise with other family members. There are also cases when a terminally ill parent with a live-in partner must give up his parental rights so the partner can adopt the child to guarantee he is cared for after the parent dies. Passing this bill would enable the partner to jointly adopt the child and would spare the sick parent the emotional trauma of relinquishing his parental rights.
As expected, several conservative fringe groups opposed Condino’s bill, such as from the American Family Association. This “pro-family” group claims that a child placed in a same-sex household would be subjected to an unhealthy environment because its studies have found gays are more likely to be depressed or suicidal. If this research has statistical merit, it certainly says something about the tragic effects bigotry and discrimination have on their victims. It does not, however, make it rational or fair to apply a blanket categorization to every same-sex couple and then deny every member rights.
Despite what the AFA might think, Condino’s bill would be pro-family: It would place children who wouldn’t otherwise have stable living conditions into carefully screened homes. The bill would increase the number of children in two-parent households, therefore protecting children if one of their caregivers becomes terminally ill or dies. Also, the bill would benefit foster-care children by making it easier for them to be adopted.
For now, Condino’s bill has been buried in committee. Legislators should ensure it makes its way back into general debate. Even though the bill may be a long shot in the Republican-controlled state Legislature, its passage would benefit children across the state and would be a great victory for the rights of unmarried couples – gay and straight alike.