Michigan Judge Bans Co-Parent Adoptions
[ANN ARBOR, MI] - A chief county judge in Michigan issued a memo on Tuesday banning judges throughout Washtenaw County from awarding second-parent adoptions to the unmarried partners of biological parents.
Effectively, Judge Archie Brown's June 4 memo prohibits gay and lesbian second-parent adoptions throughout the state, since Ann Arbor's Washtenaw County was the only one of Michigan's 83 counties where such adoptions were granted.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Judge Nancy Francis began the practice seven years ago, and it carried over with Judge Donald Shelton. Seventeen second-parent adoptions were granted last year in the county, and seven more were awarded through April of this year. Brown's memo means that these adoptions will come to a stop, and that pending adoptions will be canceled.
Presently, five states expressly ban second-parent adoptions (Florida, Mississippi, Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin), and Massachusetts expressly permits it. But such adoptions are routinely granted in courts throughout half the other states, under adoption codes that may not specifically define second-parent adoptions, but that instruct courts to make the best interests of children the determining factor.
"What appears to have happened in Michigan," said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell, "is that a judge, under tremendous right-wing pressure, has issued an opinion that the (Michigan adoption) statute does not permit second-parent adoption, and he has appeared to instruct other judges in his county that they are no longer permitted to approve them."
The one-page memo, Kendell said, was based on the analysis of an individual who was not familiar to the family law professionals in the state, and gave no legal reasoning. Whether Judge Brown has the authority to pre-empt the legal judgment of the other members of the Washtenaw court, said Kendell, "is an open question."
Kendell added that she's consulting with others throughout the country to decide what the next best step should be in response.
"Certainly, we want to preserve the right of lesbian and gay couples and their children to have a mechanism, in Michigan and in other states, for protecting their families." Second-parent adoption "is really the only such mechanism," she said.
Kendell also noted that Michigan's adoption law is one of the more expansive in the country. Second-parent adoptions, she said, may not be spelled out in Michigan's statute, but that does not make them illegal. Adoption law, she said, "has always been liberally construed to promote the best interest of a child."