As a married gay man in New York raising an adopted son with my husband, and as the leader of a national LGBT organization, I am concerned that the current patchwork of sometimes insufficient marriage and adoption laws across the country discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender couples and our children. No family’s security should be based on where it lives, and no child’s security should hinge on the marital status of his or her parents.
A recent decision by a Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court judge to deny a second-parent adoption to a lesbian couple underscores the fears. A second-parent adoption allows a person who does not have a biological connection to a child to become a legal parent without terminating the rights of the other legal parent. Judge Margarita López Torres’ ruling is dangerous and should raise eyebrows of parents everywhere.
Because the couple is legally married, López Torres found that both women were already legal parents, and the request by the child’s non-biological mother to adopt the child was “neither necessary nor available,” and “no such action is warranted or permitted by this court to affirm an existing, recognized and protected parent-child relationship.”
While I believe the judge had the best intentions, for same-sex couples — even those who are married under the laws of their home state — a second-parent adoption truly protects the parent-child relationship.
While marriage equality is rapidly gaining momentum — now legal in 17 states and Washington, D.C., and recognized by the federal government — same-sex couples with children, even those who are legally married, must be vigilant when traveling outside of their home states. What happens when a child has a medical emergency? Will both parents be permitted in the emergency room?
A second-parent adoption would give this Brooklyn family peace of mind when it leaves New York. Without the adoption, it faces uncertainty when visiting areas without protections — areas that do not recognize marriages between same-sex couples. No family should live with this fear, and no child should live without the protection of his or her parents.
Unfortunately, millions of LGBT parents must confront such trepidation. Until laws protecting LGBT families are uniform across the nation, countless children will remain in legal limbo; and without necessary adoption protections, they’re put at great risk.
This issue is popping up in several states, including Virginia, where a second-parent adoption bill was defeated last month. Virginia children being raised by same-sex couples essentially have only one legal parent under state law.
It’s outrageous that LGBT families must encounter such roadblocks when we are simply trying to raise our children. Every child must be protected under the law, and adoption receives full faith and credit across state lines. If we want to put our children first, we cannot deny them the safety and security that only a second-parent adoption affords. We must recognize marriages in all 50 states, and we must establish a standard of unfettered access to second-parent adoption for same-sex couples regardless of whether or not the two parents are married. This is necessary to protect our children, and does not detract from other standards that may not be recognized across state lines.
As my husband, Dylan, and I continue our parenting journey, we are lucky that we are both recognized as his parents. But I can’t help think of this Brooklyn couple and their child, who do not have that sense of security. Full equality is on its way, but we’re not there yet, and until we are, we must have access to the legal protections available to us.
Gabriel Blau is executive director of Family Equality Council, a national advocacy group that supports parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.