Jeanne Howard: Court could fix adoption inequity

Adult political agendas often hurt children and Michigan’s ban on allowing same-sex couples to adopt children needing homes is a current, painful example. There are 14,000 children in the foster care system in Michigan. The prospects for children who are never adopted and age out of foster care are dire. So why would Michigan do anything that discourages willing, carefully vetted prospective parents from adopting? That’s where the political agenda conflicts with the best interests of children.

Michigan uses married couples, single people, heterosexuals, gays and lesbians, and people of all races to adopt these children. But Michigan’s adoption law restricts adoption to married couples or single adults. And in Michigan, only heterosexuals can marry. This means a couple like Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer cannot adopt their children as a couple even after the state already judged them fit to foster and adopt their children individually. The children have to be divvied up — two belonging to one parent and one belonging to the other. There is no legal recognition that all these children are siblings who live in the same home and are loved and nurtured by the same mothers.

Apart from the obvious absurdity of this, there are compelling legal, social and psychological difficulties for children. Children are vulnerable when only one of their parents is legally recognized. Complications related to health care benefits, Social Security, medical decisions about children’s health, and the protections to the children when one parent dies or becomes disabled are many and complex. Another pernicious effect is the “second-class citizenship” endured by children. In his opinion striking down DOMA, Justice Kennedy noted the harm to children when the relationships of their parents are not honored or recognized. He spoke of the humiliation faced by tens of thousands of children now being raised by same sex couples. This state-imposed stigma “makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family in their own community and daily lives.”

There are remedies to these injustices for children like those in the DeBoer-Rowse family. The state could recognize the inherent dignity of loving and committed couples who want to care for their children. Because of Michigan’s discriminatory laws, parents have gone to court so their children can have the protections afforded to children adopted by married couples.

The federal court will soon decide this matter and hopefully put all adopted Michigan children on an equal footing. As this case has unfolded, Michigan’s Attorney General has spent an untold amount of tax dollars insisting that allowing these children to be adopted by both their mothers is somehow dangerous to all children and families. Who could blame gay or lesbian couples from adopting elsewhere, leaving more Michigan children to live out their lives in foster care? Unfortunately, it is the children who are left to suffer the effects of flawed policy and legislation that hurts children instead of helping them.