Second-parent adoption bill to be re-introduced in state House

BTL Staff
By | 2010-02-10T09:00:00-05:00 February 10th, 2010|Uncategorized|

Renee Harmon holds up a sign for her children, who called her “Nay-Nay.” Their initials are in hearts. Harmon has not had any contact with them since 2009; she is not the legally-recognized biological parent, even though she raised them from birth. BTL photo: Tara Cavanaugh

ANN ARBOR – State Representative Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and state Senator Rebekah Warren, D-18, announced Feb. 14 they are re-introducing a bill into the House that would allow the state to grant second-parent adoptions. They were joined in support by Rep. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor council member Sandi Smith and a dozen women who currently have or are fighting for second-parent adoption.
Allowing second-parent adoptions means that “two unmarried persons (could) petition to adopt a child,” according to the original language in the bill. Same-sex couples, who are not allowed to marry in Michigan, could be legal parents if the bill passed.
HB-4131 was first introduced into the House in February 2009 and did not pass. Warren blamed the failure on partisan politics.
Despite the Republican majority in the state House and Senate, Irwin remains hopeful about the bill. “One thing that we have now is a governor who’s talking about measures and metrics and data, and I think that’s really positive for an issue like this,” he said. “All the data shows that two-parent households are better for kids than one-parent household. So if we’re looking at running government in a way that is divorced from knee-jerk partisan reactions and that adheres to what the facts tell us, then this is the kind of bill that we should take up and pass.”
Stephanie Atkinson, holding a framed photo of her daughter, stood along Irwin and Warren. Atkinson said she hasn’t seen her daughter in more than five years.
“After the breakup, because I had no parental rights, and even though I was giving money to support my daughter, my ex decided to stay at home and live off the state,” Atkinson said. “Had I (legally) been a parent, the state of Michigan would not have been paying every month for doctor’s bills and all of that to my daughter. There’s a financial aspect to this that should also be considered. Not only do the children get to have two legal parents, but two legal parents are responsible for those children in every way, including loving them.”
There is no state law that explicitly prohibits or allows same-sex couples to adopt children, so couples used to be able to adopt if they found a judge who would grant it. “It wasn’t a change in the law that happened,” Warren said. “It was the Corrigan rule. A decision by one member of the state Supreme Court that said ,”I don’t want these to happen anymore in courts around this state.'”
That judge, Maura Corrigan, ordered Washtenaw County to stop allowing second-parent adoptions in 2002. Corrigan was recently appointed the director of Health and Human Services by Gov. Rick Snyder; the DHS regulates adoptions (among many other services). Corrigan’s order caused other county offices around the state to stop allowing same-sex adoptions, too.
Iwrin said the politics of the issue pale in comparison to the stories of the families who are affected.
Renee Harmon also spoke on Monday. Harmon is a non-biological parent who would greatly benefit from HB-4131 being passed: she is waiting to hear if the state Supreme Court will hear her case because she is seeking parental rights of the three non-biological children she raised with ex-partner Tammy Davis. Davis and Harmon had a 19-year relationship.
After the couple split in June 2008, Davis and Harmon agreed that Harmon would see the children regularly, and they maintained visitation for more than a year. But in September 2009, Davis stopped allowing Harmon to see the children, and Harmon – who was not able to legally adopt the children she helped raise – learned there was no law to defend her parental status, no matter how much of a role she played in raising her children.
Harmon, who raised the children from birth, has not had any contact with them since then.
“We just need to bring Michigan back into the 21st century,” Harmon said. “Family isn’t what it used to be in the ’50s. Now it’s all about children’s rights. Just makes sense.”
If HB-4131 does not pass the state legislature, and if the state Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, Harmon plans to pursue the case at the federal level. She’ll keep fighting because she misses her children and she knows they must miss her. She also knows she is not the only family who is suffering like this in Michigan.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 25th anniversary.