Colombian High Court to Hear American Gay Adoption Case

BY Andrew Harmon

January 26 2012 11:50 AM ET

Colombia’s highest constitutional court has agreed to hear the case of an American gay man whose adoption of two boys in the country made international headlines after Colombian officials blocked him from returning to the United States with his legally adopted sons.

The fight over Jose and Angel Pinto Sierra has been an epic one. On March 30, 2011, Chandler Burr, a journalist and former perfume critic for The New York Times, was barred by an official with the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) from traveling to the U.S. with the boys, now legally named Brian, 13, and Joseph, 9, after he disclosed that he is gay. The boys had been abandoned by their biological parents and had been transferred into state custody a few years earlier.

After Burr had already finalized the adoption paperwork and received the adoption decree, he urged the official, Ilvia Ruth Cárdenas, who heads the institute’s adoption division, to rethink the country’s position forbidding LGBT parents from “giving these kids the homes and love they need.”

Despite a 1995 Colombian court decision finding that sexual orientation may not be used as a criterion for a prospective parent’s suitability to adopt, the government’s de facto policy has been to categorically deny adoption to gay individuals, whether Colombian or foreign.

“I said, ‘You know me, you know I’ll be a good parent. I’m gay,’” Burr recalled of his conversation with Cárdenas. “And she immediately freaked out. ... I assumed, naively in retrospect, that since the boys were legally mine and she couldn’t take them away legally, even if she was very upset, she wouldn’t break the law. This is exactly what she and ICBF did.”

Cárdenas called the U.S. Embassy and demanded that the boys’ adoption emigration visas be canceled (American officials complied). She then asked an ICBF attorney to initiate an investigation of fraud and perjury by Burr in his adoption process.

But in the ensuing months, Burr fought back, suing the ICBF with the help of the civil rights legal group Dejusticia. He lost in both district and appeals courts, but a family court judge eventually kicked the case back to ICBF, demanding it be resolved.

National debate over the case raged after Burr was interviewed by CNN on December 1 about his attempts to bring his sons to the U.S. Colombian bishop Juan Vicente Córdoba fumed in the press over the prospect of a gay man adopting boys, telling El Tiempo last month that Burr’s “disorder of sexual identity” is troubling because “he will receive two children at an age when they may be attractive to him, which could be a temptation.”

On December 12, an ICBF attorney returned the boys to Burr in an administrative decision — much to his astonishment. Burr returned to the U.S. with Joseph and Brian a day later. The family lives in South Orange, N.J.

But Colombian adoption officials continue to fight for the return of the boys on procedural and administrative grounds.

Rodrigo Uprimny, Burr’s lead Colombian attorney with Dejusticia, said the Constitutional Court will consider the following questions during oral arguments on a yet-to-be-announced date:

-Can a gay person adopt in Colombia?
-Must a potential adoptive parent disclose his or her sexual orientation?


Uprimny told The Advocate via e-mail, “Our position is that it would be discriminatory to forbid a gay person to adopt in Colombia, and that it would violate the rights of many abandoned children in Colombia to obtain a family, via adoption by a gay person or a gay couple.”

“Sexual orientation should not be a [criterion] to decide about the suitability of a person to be a father,” Uprimny added.

(Story continues on next page; Burr's CNN interview below.)

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