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Utah Kids
in Custody Case Go to Grandma

Utah Kids
in Custody Case Go to Grandma

When Gregg Valdez took in his niece's four children in September, he didn't expect to confront a Utah state law that effectively bars gay men and lesbians from becoming foster and adoptive parents. But because his niece was being monitored by the Division of Child and Family Services for drug use, Valdez's ability to serve as a temporary guardian was challenged by the state; it appeared that Valdez and his partner, Mike Oberg, were violating a state law that forbids unmarried and cohabiting couples from becoming foster or adoptive parents.

A court hearing Monday resolved the dispute by removing the children from the legal custody of Valdez's niece, Antoinette Rudman, and placing them with her mother. As a result, the children, ages 10 months to 11 years old, will move to Price, Utah, an hour's drive from Salem, where Valdez lives. All the parties agreed to the arrangement before presenting it to the judge at the hearing, Valdez said.

"We all came to the same conclusion: We didn't want to get involved in a big court battle, and we wanted to keep the kids together," Valdez told Gay.com. "I could have fought it, but I didn't think it would be in the best interest of the kids. It'll be hard at first, but I know they'll be taken care of."

Rudman said she was happy with Monday's court order because it will allow her to eventually be reunited with her children, though she recognizes that the judgment was upsetting to Valdez.

"I could tell he was sad," Rudman said. "By the way he looked, I could just tell. I think he was hurt, but happy that the kids are in a safe place."

Some critics of the Utah cohabitation law, enacted in 2000, say it was crafted to discriminate against gay parents.

"Because of the ban against cohabitating couples to becoming foster or adoptive parents, a gay man living with his partner can't become a foster parent or adopt kids," said Valdez's attorney, Laura Milliken Gray. "And it's having horrible effects on foster children because it interferes with their permanent placement.

"Attention needs to be brought to the fact that there are a lot of people like Gregg in Utah," Gray continued. "This is not the only case we're seeing."

Utah is one of three states, including Florida and Alabama, whose laws make it impossible for gay men and lesbians to become foster or adoptive parents.

Though the cohabitation statute had been a central piece of the dispute before the hearing, Valdez said it wasn't mentioned in court Monday.

"The gay issue didn't come up," Valdez said. "I'm happy it didn't. It's not an issue, and it shouldn't be. It's going to be hard to adjust to the kids not being there, but I'll still see the kids and interact with them. It's a win-win situation, especially for the parents, because they can be reunited with their kids."

With permanent legal custody granted to Rudman's mother, the family is in discussions about whether Valdez should maintain physical custody of Rudman's 11-year-old son, who has told his mother that he'd rather stay with Valdez.

"He's comfortable and safe there, and instead of switching schools again, he'd like to stay with my uncle Gregg," Rudman said. "He loves his grandmother, but he feels more comfortable there."

Valdez said he's going to push for a change in the cohabitation law.

"I'm meeting up with my state representative and senator to give them a personal story so they know how it affects every family," Valdez said. "If it weren't for their grandmother stepping in, who knows what would have happened to those kids?" (Bernice Yeung, Gay.com)

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