We spend a lot of time talking about family – how important families are, how they’re the best place for raising children, how they need to be protected. We recognize that children benefit from homes with loving, supportive parents who treasure they and help them learn to get along in the world.
Sometimes homes are not safe, though, and children are removed from their biological parents for one reason or another. That’s when we depend on the goodness and charity of our villages to raise these children. An army of foster parents exists which is dedicated to teaching abused and neglected boys and girls that there are adults who can be trusted and who love them more than life itself, despite their earliest experiences. These foster parents are heroes in my eyes. Sometimes foster children are reunited with biological parents, but sometimes that is not possible. In those cases, the lucky kids find permanent loving homes through the adoption process with foster parents they’ve already come to know and love.
In our country, there are many states where gay and lesbian parents may adopt children, but there are other states, like Michigan, where adoption is forbidden. But despite the adoption restrictions in Michigan where single parents may adopt, married heterosexual parents may adopt, but same-sex parents may not adopt, same-sex couples can still be legal guardians of foster children.
When April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse added a child to their home via the foster care system, both women were able to make decisions on his behalf. But now that the placement has become permanent, they cannot both adopt him. So he and his siblings are divided into hers and hers. Should something happen to the adoptive mother, there is no guarantee the surviving parent would be able to step in and take over care, or even register the kids in school.
Even if DeBoer and Rowse, who’ve been together longer than their children have been alive, were to travel to a different state to be married, they could not share parenting rights and responsibilities under Michigan law. So they challenged Michigan’s adoption laws. And when they did, the federal judge hearing the case suggested they expand their complaint to sue for the right to marry (in my opinion, an obvious step toward establishing, protecting and preserving family).
The judge heard arguments about the complaint the first week of March and will issue a ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court issues its rulings on the Prop 8 and Defense of Marriage legislation. The Supreme Court will hear those cases later this month and is expected to issue a ruling before June.
When Michigan voters approved their laws banning same-sex marriage, recognition of civil unions and same-sex adoptions back in 2004, they probably did not intend to tear families apart. They probably did not intend to create situations where children (some of whom have suffered abuse and neglect in early childhood) could legally be removed from the protective care of parents and separated from siblings. They were probably unaware of the longitudinal studies showing that same-sex parents, in particular lesbian couples, are more likely to be stable, healthy and nurturing than many married heterosexual couples.
In states like Michigan and Utah, where there are no statewide protections against employment discrimination, a same-sex parent could lose her job merely for being in a same-sex relationship. Her family would then lose some or all of its income, which could plunge that family into poverty. A family could lose its home because a landlord learns it is headed by two dads. How is that looking out for the best interests of the children?
The thing is, every family needs protection. Your family may not look like mine and mine may not look like the one across the street, but they are all the basic unit of society. When we go to the polls, or when we involve ourselves in the legislative process, we need to remember that not all families are those with a mom and a dad and a couple of kids. In fact, the majority of families in our country do not fit that pattern. But that doesn’t mean they love each other less. And if we are really about protecting families, we need to protect and support the ones most at risk. We shouldn’t be putting up barriers to love and stability, we need to be removing barriers. Especially when it is clear that what we need most is love, food, shelter and stability. Just as it doesn’t matter what color those people are, it doesn’t matter whether they are women or men.