By Jillian A. Bogater
DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan applauded a Michigan Court of Appeals majority decision today to uphold second parent adoptions within same-sex relationships, a process that allows unmarried couples, including lesbian and gay couples, to establish a legal relationship with the couples’ children.
“This is an outstanding victory for Michigan children and a welcome acknowledgment of hundreds of gay and lesbian parents,” said Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan, LGBT staff attorney. “Gay and lesbian families in Michigan can now feel secure in the permanence of the adoptions and know that courts cannot separate parents from their children without legal just cause.”
The Appeals Court upheld an Ingham County Circuit Court’s decision affirming the permanency of a second-parent adoption for a Michigan lesbian couple.
Same-sex parent activists are pleased with the outcome, but cautious about possible upcoming hurdles.
“It’s a good decision for that particular family, but this is not a landmark decision that will protect LGBT families as a whole,” said Beverly Davidson, president of Ann Arbor-based Coalition for Adoption Rights Equality. “This is not a ruling that said same-sex parents are valid. It’s a technical decision. (The gay community) shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief with this decision.”
The ACLU of Michigan represented Martha McClellan whose parental rights were under attack by her former partner, Karen Hansen. In 1999, after eight years in a committed relationship, Karen became pregnant and they had twins, a son and daughter, who Martha legally adopted. In 2003, the couple decided to part ways, however, continued to share parenting responsibilities. Three years later, Karen filed a motion to dissolve the adoption and strip Martha of her legal rights as a parent arguing that it was illegal to permit unmarried couples to adopt.
The ACLU of Michigan agrees with the court’s rationale that family courts have the right to hear all adoption matters, including the issue of whether gay couples can jointly adopt.
According to the majority decision, “Plaintiff argues that, despite the court’s jurisdiction to adjudicate adoptions, the trial court lacked the power to adjudicate these particular adoptions. We disagree.”
Still, the case leaves open the possibility of an appeal before the Michigan Supreme Court.
“(The decision) protects second parent adoptions already in existence, which is great,” said Sascha Matish, a former board member of CARE. “Unfortunately, there is also a definite possibility, particularly in light of the strongly worded dissent, that if the case is appealed, the Michigan Supreme court will rule differently.
“This case, and others like it, makes the case for why the adoption code should be amended to explicitly allow for second parent adoptions. HB 5399 will make it absolutely clear that second parent adoptions are legal in the state of Michigan.”
Martha McClellan was represented by ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorneys Bryan Waldman, Sara Zearfoss, Constance Jones, Kaplan and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg.