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Civil liberties and LGBT groups challenge Michigan two-parent adoption ban

Mere weeks after the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex adoption, the battle over two-parent adoptions is heating up in Michigan as advocates for youth in the foster care system say that thousands of children are being denied permanent homes.

Under a 1935 law, only one person in state government can sign off on every adoption in the state, causing a two month delay reports the Detroit News.

But there are some youth who have two loving adult caretakers. Some of those caretakers are a grandparent and aunt, or same-sex partners. Those co-parenting scenarios are called “second parent adoptions” and the battle to approve them has been a rocky process for years.

The Michigan Department of Human Services oversees adoptions and foster care programming in the state and the current director, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan, is a longtime opponent of same-sex partners adopting children. Messenger asked MDHS spokesperson Gisgie Gendrau if the department had any plans to push for second parent adoption.

“Michigan statute requires that, when there is a two-parent adoption, the parents must be married. Michigan does not recognize same-sex marriages. Single parent adoptions do not take into account the sexual orientation of the parent. This is a legislative issue, not a court nor a DHS issue,” Gendrau wrote in an e-mail.

That response drew sharp criticism from advocates in the state.

Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Program, had this to say about the DHS response:

The Department’s interpretation of Michigan’s adoption statute is inaccurate. There is nothing in Michigan’s adoption law that says that the parties must be married in order to jointly adopt.

Michigan’s statute requires that if a person who wishes to adopt is married, his or her spouse must join in on the adoption petition, but there is no language in the adoption statute that says joint adoptions are limited to married couples.

The Department is manufacturing a prohibition that is not there in the specific language of the statute, which according to Michigan courts, “must be strictly construed.” Courts in Illinois, District of Columbia, Massachusetts,. New Jersey, New York, and Vermont (all of which have similar adoption statutory language as in Michigan requiring married spouses to join in adoption petitions) have held that this language does not prohibit two unmarried persons, including gay couples, from jointly adopting.

Michigan appellate courts have not looked at the issue of gay couples adopting, and although Gisgie states otherwise, this is a court and legislative issue. It is not up to DHS, under the direction of Maura Corrigan, a former justice on Michigan’s Supreme Court, who without a case before the Court, intervened to stop Second Parent Adoptions from being granted in Washtenaw County in 2002, to manufacture a prohibition that is not there in the statute.

And Kaplan was not alone. Emily Dievendorf, policy director at Equality Michigan, also weighed in on the DHS statement.

Michigan’s equal rights advocates are finding that Arkansas is way ahead of Michigan in a number of ways. Arkansas recently passed an enumerated anti-bullying bill into law and with this Supreme Court decision has once again executed a concern and support for the general welfare of its residents that Michigan has yet to show.

Michigan continues to struggle for an anti-bullying law that protects all kids and is now attempting to misconstrue our adoption laws in ways that only endanger the stability of Michigan’s children. In this case, the Michigan Department of Human Services is interpreting Michigan adoption law in ways that deny kids available homes when its purpose is only to implement a Michigan statute that has no marriage requirement. The misinterpretation prevents the placement of our state’s most vulnerable youth.

DHS did not respond to a follow up inquiry asking Corrigan to respond to Kaplan’s allegation she had manufactured “a prohibition that is not in the statute.”

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