There are plenty of horror stories about custody battles for same-sex couples. As the law currently states, only one parent in a same-sex couple can have legal rights over his or her children. In the event that a partner dies or wishes to separate, the parent without legal right doesn’t have any custody over his or her children.

That is the case in Michigan, where current adoption laws reflect the state’s unwillingness to recognize same-sex couples as parents. But last Monday, Rep. Jeff Irwin (D—Ann Arbor) proposed state legislation that, if passed, would extend the adoption rights currently granted to heterosexual couples, to same-sex couples and other unrepresented guardians. This measure is long overdue and is absolutely necessary to ensure that responsible, same-sex parents are afforded full custodial rights and don’t suffer discrimination.

Though single homosexuals are legally allowed to adopt in Michigan, Irwin’s bill would expand the existing law by allowing a second parent to petition for joint custody of their partner’s child, according to a Feb. 14 article. The law would apply to legal adoptions by same-sex couples and children conceived through in-vitro fertilization. Michigan has already granted second-parent privileges to stepparents who wish to adopt their spouse’s children, but the law doesn’t recognize same-sex couples.

The bill would give the children of same-sex couples unfettered access to the insurance, Social Security and other financial benefits of both parents, rather than just one. These children would also enjoy the stability of a two-parent household without a barrier of red tape that confuses their perception of a cohesive family. Under the current system, if something happens to the custodial parent, the child could be placed into protective custody without regard for the fact that the child has another parent who is simply not recognized by the state.

As it stands, the current law doesn’t provide shared custody between separated, same-sex couples. Regardless of how long a couple is together and raising a child, if they separate, the non-custodial parent has no rights to that child. Irwin’s bill would protect the interests of the adoptive parents by granting them shared custody in the same manner as heterosexual couples.

The sheer lack of precedent to justify the current same-sex adoption restrictions is startling. Two separate studies — one published in the September 2009 issue of Adoption Quarterly and the other in a book by Assistant Prof. Abbie Goldberg of Clark University — found no significant difference between the long-term well-being of children raised by same-sex couples and those raised by heterosexual couples. Yet the state has a system in place that refuses to grant a legitimate parent of custodial rights, and potentially endangers the stability of the child’s life, simply because of the parent’s sexual orientation.

This type of discrimination reflects an antiquated perception of what a parent is and what a family is. Instead of focusing on the gender of the partners, the state should be examining whether or not a couple can provide a healthy and stable home for a child. Couples who are able to do so should be granted full custodial rights — for both parents.

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