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Stories from the


The highs and lows of same-sex couples in seven U.S. states trying to adopt.

New York Jeffrey Friedman and Andrew Zwerin were high school sweethearts. They met in 1984, dated throughout college and graduate school, and in 1999 decided to build their family through international adoption. It proved expensive and frustrating. Friedman recalls, "For two years our agency worked with contacts in Guatemala, but then decided it just would not work, since we wanted to be honest about being a couple."

Then their adoption agency found a potential match in Russia and prepared the men to visit an orphanage there. But before they packed their bags, a phone call dashed their hopes. "They told us the Russian judge who would have approved us as a couple had retired," says Zwerin. "That was it."

So in 2002 they gave up on an international search and decided to try domestic adoption. Joshua was born on August 14, 2003, and became their son through joint adoption in the State of New York. Freidman says, beaming: "We picked up Joshua that day, and he has been the great joy in our lives ever since."

Vermont and Virginia Virginia residents Lisa and Janet Miller-Jenkins were joined by civil union in Vermont in 2000. Two years later, after conceiving though artificial insemination, Lisa gave birth to their daughter, Isabella, in April 2002, and the family moved to Vermont that summer.

The couple split up in September 2003--Lisa moved back to Virginia with Isabella, and she filed to dissolve the civil union in a Vermont county family court. Janet then filed a counterclaim seeking sole custody. The Vermont court issued a temporary order awarding Janet custody and granting Lisa visitation. Lisa then sought sole custody from the Virginia court system.

On October 15, 2004, Judge John R. Prosser of Frederick County, Va., circuit court issued a Final Order of Parentage declaring Lisa the child's "sole biological and natural parent." The ruling was consistent with Virginia's Affirmation of Marriage Act, which bars the state from recognizing same-sex civil unions. On August 4, 2006, the Vermont supreme court unanimously ruled in favor of Janet; later that year the Virginia court of appeals rejected Judge Prosser's lower court ruling, citing the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, under which courts must recognize other states' court orders regarding custody and visitation. Lisa had sought appeals in the Virginia supreme court and the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which declined to hear the appeal. Their civil union was dissolved in July of this year: Lisa was ruled biological parent; Janet was granted visitation rights.

Oklahoma On March 11, 2002, Ed Swaya and Greg Hampel sat in an Oklahoma hospital awaiting the birth of Vivian, whose birth mother had chosen them to become her fathers though open adoption--that is, the mother would have contact with the child. Five days later the couple took their new baby home to Seattle. But when the adoption was finalized near the end of that year, the state of Oklahoma refused to allow an amended birth certificate that would list both men as Vivian's legal parents. The state health department said it "could not establish maternity for Mr. Swaya."

Rejecting vigorous advocacy by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Oklahoma state legislature in spring 2004 passed an amendment to its adoption code (by 93-4 in the house and 44-0 in the senate) that refused to recognize out-of-state adoptions by same-sex parents, and the law took effect July 1, 2004. According to state representative Thad Balkman, it was designed to "protect Oklahoma children from adoption by homosexual couples," since, as he put it, "the proverbial barn door has been opened, and we need to shut it immediately."

"We wanted to take her to visit her birth mother, but after that, we were unwilling to go back with her [to Oklahoma]," Swaya says, "because we feared if we needed a doctor, a police officer, or government official's help, they might not recognize us as Vivian's parents."

The law was held unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2006, who ruled that states must recognize each other's judicial adoption decrees under the "full faith and credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution. On August 3 of this year, a federal appellate court concurred.

Tennessee After successfully fostering 18 needy children over the past few years, Knoxville, Tenn., denizens Scott Amos and Tony Frost have many fans in children's services. Nevertheless, in October 2004, Judge Carey Garrett ruled their home "immoral" and ordered the county to remove five foster children from their home.

Social workers rallied to Amos and Frost's defense but were unable to return the children, who subsequently cycled through other various foster homes repeatedly. As with many of their other former foster children, Amos says, "the kids call us during the holidays and on birthdays. We miss them, and we'll always be here if they need us."

In 2005 a friend of theirs decided to place her newborn child with the couple through open adoption. Tyler was born on February 23, and his adoption was finalized on September 6. In November their foster agency placed siblings Dominique and Aaliyah with the couple, though Frost says, the county social worker initially opposed the placement. "She even spoke with Tyler's mother to convince her that two gay men should not raise her child," he says.

However, over the course of almost a year, the social worker had a change of heart. She came to know Amos and Frost and saw their children flourishing. "Now she's our biggest advocate," Amos explains. "When our foster kids' parents learn that we're two gay men, they march into the office and make a big stink, assuming the worst. But our social workers have built a wall around us, and they go to bat for us."

On August 30, 2006, Amos and Frost celebrated the finalization of Dominique and Aaliyah's adoptions. And they were joined at the courthouse by their supportive and excited social worker.

Florida Because of Florida's prohibition on gay adoption, Cathy James of Tampa has no legal relationship with her son Tyler. Judy, her partner of 12 years, conceived through artificial insemination and gave birth to him in February 2000.

"Florida would not allow me to adopt him if Judy were to die," James explains. In fact, she wouldn't have legal standing in the family court to petition for visitation if he were taken away from her. So James and her partner got to work. Last year they joined other parents to start a nonprofit political lobbying organization called Securing Our Childrens Rights (, which seeks to change the laws in their state to better protect their family.

Washington and Florida In February 2007, Janice Langbehn and her partner, Lisa Pond, from Olympia, Wash., traveled on vacation to Miami with their children, Katie, David, and Danielle, where their cruise ship was bound for the Bahamas. Shortly after boarding, Pond collapsed, and she was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she died of a brain aneurysm.

Compounding the family tragedy, Langbehn and her children were stopped in the waiting room, unable to learn of Pond's condition for hours. Langbehn says hospital social worker Garnett Frederick pointed out that they were in "an antigay city and state," then refused to share details of Pond's condition or treatment. He is then alleged to have told Langbehn that she would need a health care proxy before she would be allowed to see her partner. Langbehn called a family friend in Olympia, who went to their house, retrieved their power of attorney, living will, and advance directive, and faxed the legal documents to the hospital.

Finally, the neurosurgeons who had been operating on Pond emerged from the emergency room and allowed Langbehn to accompany a priest as he performed last rites.

"Our children and I all lost the ability to be with Lisa in her last moments of consciousness, to hold her hand and to say goodbye," Langbehn says, "and that is something that can never be given back to our family."

Ironically, when the organ donation papers arrived, administrators looked to Langbehn to sign the consent forms.

Arkansas This March, Randi Romo went to the Arkansas state capitol to talk sense into her state legislature, which had been considering an amendment to the state's constitution that would prevent her from adopting her teenage granddaughter, Devon, because Romo is a lesbian.

Romo has been taking care of Devon because the girl's mother, Jennifer, is chronically ill.

"I was absolutely devastated at how this law could affect our family," says Romo about her trip to the capitol. "Jennifer's condition had flared up; she was hospitalized and in critical condition. No grandparent should ever have to fight for a child in this type of survivor situation."

Romo is the director of the Center for Artistic Revolution, a grassroots community group based in Little Rock with a mission to work for fairness and equality for all Arkansans. The activist knows all too well the bigotry her family is facing. "When are people going to 'get it,' that we are all the same? We deal with the same joys and worries, sickness and health, victories and challenges like everyone else. There's a real possibility that, if Devon's mother were to die, Devon could be put in foster care by the state."

Luckily, there were not enough signatures gathered by the deadline this summer to put the aforementioned constitutional amendment on the 2008 general election ballot.

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