When a Hazel Park couple filed a lawsuit against the state for denying their family the right for second parent adoption, they hadn’t expected to also sue for equal access to a marriage license. Yet because of remarks made by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, the couple amended their suit last week to include equal access to marriage. If successful, Michigan families could win both of these equality struggles with one suit.
Attorneys Dana M. Nessel and Carole M. Stanyar are representing a Hazel Park couple that wants to compel the state to recognize their parental rights. The couple has been together for ten years and has lived together for six. Rowse is the legal parent of 3-year-old N and 2-year-old J. DeBoer is the legal parent of 2-year-old R.
DeBoer and Rowse took each of the children in after being abandoned or surrendered at birth. The women served as guardians and licensed foster parents to the children before adopting them as individuals. Each child could only legally be adopted by one of the women under current Michigan law. The current law states that only a single individual or a married couple has the right to adopt children.
The State Attorney General’s Office filed to have the case dismissed, arguing that adoption is not a right, but rather a statutory privilege. At the hearing on Sept. 5, Judge Friedman told the parties that the underlying issue is the state’s ban on same-gender marriage, and he gave the couple an additional ten days to amend their complaint to address the issue.
“I was surprised when Judge Friedman brought it up,” Nessel said. “Our case has always been about what is best for the children and their rights, and that has been at the forefront of our argument. But if we have a shot at it this way, how could we not?”
The amended lawsuit requests that “same-sex couples otherwise qualified to marry one another, including the adult Plaintiffs, may not be denied a marriage license application, a marriage license, a marriage certificate, or in any other way prevented from exercising the right to civil marriage by virtue of seeking to marry a partner of the same sex; and requiring Defendant (Oakland County Clerk Bill) Bullard immediately to issue a valid marriage license to adult Plaintiffs upon receipt of their completed application for a marriage license.”
The lawsuit still calls for second parent adoption rights.
Three Children Welcomed
DeBoer and Rowse both work in the medical field, and they have opened their home to the three children. In January 2009, N. was born to a biological mother who was homeless and had psychological impairments. The mother surrendered her legal rights at the hospital and Rowse adopted him, even though both take equal pride in his upbringing.
In November 2009, J. was born premature at just 25 weeks. His mother was a drug-addicted sex worker, and the newborn tested positive for marijuana, cocaine, opiates and methadone. After four months in the hospital, J was sent to live with DeBoer and Rowse and the state approved them to be co-foster parents. When it came time to legally adopt him however, DeBoer had to give up her guardianship rights so that Rowse could become J’s single legal parent.
R came along in February 2010, when a 19 year old who had not received any prenatal care, gave birth at a friend’s house and the baby was dropped off at Hutzel Hospital. DeBoer legally adopted R, and the couple has been working hard to help him overcome the delayed gross motor skills that are the result of his biological mother not receiving any medical care while she was carrying him.
The complaint lists reasons why second parent adoption and marriage are important rights. “Plaintiffs are denied protections relating to the incapacitation or death of a spouse, support for family finances and other public and private safety nets and responsibilities attaching to marriage.”
The suit lists reasons why denying marriage to couples is discriminatory and causes harm, including rights that come along with an estate, rights to spousal benefits like health care, life insurance, survivor benefits, filing jointly for tax benefits, hospital visitation and the right to make care decisions or burial plans. The suit purports that couples like DeBoer and Rowse are protected under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which “provides that no state shall deny any person the equal protection of the laws.”