Saturday, June 26, 2010

Same-sex parents need equal adoption rights

A recent ruling by an appeals court in Dane County has determined that a woman who has cared for her children for years cannot be deemed a mother of those children herself – simply because she was in a same-sex relationship.

The woman, who went by the alias of “Wendy,” and her partner split up but decided to have shared custody of the two children. However, Wendy did not have the official status of being a guardian of the children since under Wisconsin state law gay and lesbian couples cannot adopt together – only one of the parents can officially become the guardian of a child.

Wendy sought to change that through the legal system, but the court this week ruled that Wendy could not seek the same recognition that her former partner has over their two children despite having had all of the same responsibilities of parenthood during their relationship.

The issue here is definitively institutional: two straight parents under the same situation would have been given the same right to adopt both children initially, from the moment the adoption took place. The issue isn’t whether Wendy should be able to adopt the children now, but rather why the state refused to allow her to adopt from the get-go.

The only equivalent situation to Wendy’s that a straight couple might encounter would be where one of the parents didn’t choose to adopt the children, perhaps in a step-parent model where the formal adoption never took place. However, even in this situation equality eludes same-sex couples: the step-mother or –father would have had the option to make their guardianship more formal if they had chosen to; couples in same-sex relationships cannot have that option at all under Wisconsin state law.

The result: parents like Wendy, who was a stay-at-home mother during the entirety of the children’s lives up to the couple’s split, cannot have the recognition of being a legal parent. Because some people in the state want a “traditional” family model for ALL families, because they want to determine how each of us should live our lives (and because anything that deviates from that model is inherently “wrong” in their view), real Wisconsin families are being broken apart in a legal sense.

Should one of Wendy’s children – and yes, they’re just as much hers as they are her ex’s – have to be taken to the hospital, she would need the permission of her former partner before she would be allowed to see them at all. If, God forbid, her ex should die, it would be unlikely that Wendy would get custody of their two children.

Things could have been different: Wendy could have been the primary guardian. But that would mean her partner would have lost recognition rights, too. The fact remains that, under Wisconsin state law, only one of two parents in a same-sex relationship can have custodial rights in an adoption. It’s a double-standard that, as we see in Wendy’s case, has the potential to split real families apart.

Why should straight parents be given the right to adopt their partner’s children themselves, while homosexual parents have no such rights? It’s a terrible injustice, and needs to be remedied. Families, even the so-called “non-traditional” ones, need to have equal rights – and with the way things work in Wisconsin some families are treated as less than equal, all because they don’t fit into a certain frame that lawmakers deemed “best.” In the end, it’s the children who suffer the most, not because they are part of a “different” type of family, but because lawmakers can’t accept that those differences don’t necessarily equal “bad.”

A “different” type of family is full of the same amount of love as any other kind. It’s time the state of Wisconsin recognizes that fact.

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