BY AJ TRAGER
GROSSE POINTE FARMS- As the Michigan election comes to an end and BTL goes to press, we await the outcome of the Attorney General’s race between Democratic candidate Mark Totten and Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette. Schuette has been a staunch supporter of the lawsuit currently before the 6th Circuit, denying same-sex couples the right to marry, and as a result they are also denied the right to co-adopt. Totten spent an afternoon with two same-sex couples last Friday, who between them have ten children, many of which were adopted out of the foster care system in the state.
Over the past couple of years Totten has gotten to know the plaintiff couple in Michigan fighting for same-sex adoption rights. He believes April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are heroes along with many other same-sex couples who decide to participate in the foster care system and/or adoption.
“I want to be very clear that there is nothing in the Michigan constitution that says Bill Schuette has to argue that foster kids would be better off as orphans than having two gay parents. There is nothing in Michigan constitution that says that,” Totten said.
“There has been a lot of attention on the trial that’s been underway, on the marriage side of it, but there has been little on one important issue which is the impact that this has on kids, adoptions and on issues like the ones you face as you have adopted foster kids,” Totten told the couples.
“Really it is about all of you and about hundreds of other people who are not willing to adopt foster kids until some things change in the law.”
According to the Michigan Department of Human Service’s website, there are approximately 13,000 Michigan children who are in the foster care system at any given time. On the front of the website it reads,”We need your help to provide a safe, nurturing home for these children until they can be returned to their families.” While a same-sex couple can be foster parents in Michigan, they cannot currently jointly adopt. This was a pivotal fact that moved Federal District Court Judge Bernard Friedman to encourage the DeBoer-Rowse family to challenge the Michigan Marriage Amendment. Friedman saw the amendment as the obstacle which prevents co-adoption. If the couple could legally marry, then they could legally co-adopt.
Johnny and Daniel Persyn have been a couple for just shy of 16 years and together have adopted five children originally from foster care. They joined the foster care system in 2007 and adopted their first children in 2008, two sibling boys.
Johnny decided to be the stay at home dad since Daniel had the sustaining income.
“What is going through my mind now is that if something were to happen to Daniel, I was actually told that if another family member doesn’t step up and take the kids, that our children could go back into foster care instead of being with me,” Johnny said. “That is one of the main things that bothers me because our children have made big strides since they came into care with us.”
Of their five children, two arrived in the household with attitude and attention problems. Since being there, they have advanced significantly, with one substitute teacher even commenting that the one child was no longer unruly in the classroom and couldn’t believe it was the same student. The other used to hide behind his fathers, wearing sunglasses, pretending to be “invisible.” He is now the class clown.
“They [the Michigan legislature] don’t have the same views and opinions on single parents as they do gay parents. To tell us that we cannot both be parents, but singly we could be, I just don’t know how anybody could take that opinion,” Daniel said. “I don’t think it is fair to children to say ‘you’re legally not allowed to have two loving parents.'”
Partnered for the last six years, Kathy Derbyshire and Lisa Malburg were finally married in New York this past July. Malburg brought in two children from a previous relationship, but together they decided they would adopt and go through the foster care system. They are now proud mothers of five kids.
“When you’re adopting children through the foster care system, they need stability, they need insurance and that piece of it can cause a lot of confusion and even seem a little unstable as opposed to their care when they were in the foster care system with us,” Derbyshire said. “In itself, it sends a big message to the kids like, ‘why are you okay to be my mom when I am a foster child but then only one of you can be my parent when it comes to adoption?'”
Malburg is able to cover her partner’s health insurance through domestic partner benefits at work. However, since their youngest isn’t legally Malburg’s son, he goes without insurance.
“Some companies have domestic partner benefits. It’s important to know that while a spouse is directly covered and the money that goes into that is pre-taxed money, where Lisa covers me, since that money is not pre-taxed, it does cost more,” Derbyshire pressed. “It’s not the same as having spousal benefits. Some couples may be limited to the type of care that they can provide for the children.”
If something were to happen to one party of either of these couples tomorrow, there are significant risks for many of the children adopted by that parent not legally recognized by the state.
“At a time where kids would be going through the worst trauma of their life, losing the parent that is providing them with their new forever home, now you put in the aspect of they could be ripped away from the only other parent they have. To just put a label on it and say ‘gay marriage is wrong’ or ‘same-sex marriage is wrong’ it has so many other layers to it,” Derbyshire said.
There have been a string of 40 state and federal courts who have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage over the past two years, with one exception in Louisiana.
“Consistent with my oath of office, when I become Attorney General I will drop this appeal and be very clear at this point in time that this violates the federal constitution and its promise to all Americans that they will have equal representation under the law. I just want to end by saying this is egregious because of the harm it causes to your kids and thousands of other kids like them. So the promise that I have made is I will always be a voice for the people of Michigan and especially our most vulnerable citizens. You know, like our little ones in the foster care system are at the top of that list. If we pull this off we are going to change the direction of our state on this issue and you guys are going to feel that directly.”
BTL has strongly endorsed Mark Totten. No matter how the election results fall, couples like Johnny and Daniel Persyn, and Kathy Derbyshire and Lisa Malburg, will be waiting to see the outcome of the 6th Circuit in DeBoer V Snyder and the impact it will have in providing protections to their children.