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Forever Mine: Why LGBTQ+ Parents Should Consider Adopting Their Own Children

Meg York Esq Director LGBTQ Family Law and Policy
Meg York/Family Equality

This National Adoption Month, an attorney for Family Equality highlights a different type of adoption: stepparent, second parent, and confirmatory adoption for LGBTQ+ parents.

My stomach began to flutter as we pulled into the parking lot. “Why am I nervous?” I wondered aloud. My wife looked at me and gave a knowing smile. “Because you’ve never been the subject of a court proceeding before.”

She was right. As an attorney who practiced family law, I had been in that courthouse hundreds of times, but never on my own behalf.

“There she is!” the security guard’s booming voice greeted us warmly as we entered the building. “And you brought the little one!”

Ever since Ida arrived, court staff always gave me grief any time I showed up without her. “I can’t bring her to my hearings,” I would tell them, to which they would respond, “Excuses, excuses.” Everyone loved Ida.

“Why are you three here today?” the guard asked my wife and me.

“I’m here to adopt my own daughter,” I replied.

We had been preparing for this day for months. As an attorney, I understood the importance of protecting my legal rights to my daughter, and her legal rights to me. I knew that my name on her birth certificate was not enough. I knew that being married to her birth mother might not be enough, either. I was familiar with horror stories of families ripped apart and the less traumatic but no less frustrating denial of dependent health insurance coverage.

Jumping through all the hoops

As a mother, I was frustrated that we had to jump through these hoops that different-sex couples did not.

My wife and I had planned for Ida, we worked together to choose a donor, to have all paperwork reviewed by an attorney, to engage in assisted reproduction, to carry a fetus for nine plus months, and to birth this tiny miracle. Ida was born into my arms. I have her face memorized. Her smile brightens my day. She is my everything. And yet, there I was – pleading with a judge to legitimize my role as her mother.

We shuffled into a small side room near Courtroom 1. I tried not to draw attention, but colleagues who spotted us in the hall ran over to express their congratulations as well as their outrage. As one friend put it, “I’m glad we live in a time where this is possible, but I am sorry we live in a time where this is necessary.”

I took a deep breath and sat down. The judge pushed over a few papers for us to sign. He signed his part, and then he said he had to run. Well, that was anticlimactic, I thought as we walked back out into the hallway. The emotions didn’t hit me till later – relief and irritation. I wondered if this judge had any idea what it was like to have to ask someone’s permission to be your own child’s mother.

“Hey,” my wife said, trying to be encouraging. “This is your day. Let’s make it special.” I smiled back at her and said, “You’re right. Let’s go take some pictures.” We went back into the small room, and we celebrated. We celebrated legal recognition and legal protection. We celebrated Ida and we celebrated each other.

Stepparent, second parent, and confirmatory adoption for LGBTQ+ parents

When people think of adoption, they often think of working with a private agency or child welfare office to bring a child into a home. While this is certainly one way LGBTQ+ parents build their families, it is not the only way legal parent-child relationships are established and secured. This National Adoption Month, I wanted to highlight a different type of adoption: stepparent, second parent, and confirmatory adoption for LGBTQ+ parents.

Let’s be clear: Couples who together dreamed of a child and conceived that child are that child’s parents, regardless of whose genetics are involved. However, depending on your family circumstances, the law may not recognize you as your child’s legal parent. Although there are situations under which the law should recognize you as a parent, adoption eliminates any confusion. It entitles you to make medical and other important decisions for your child and ensures that your child will have the right to inherit from you and access certain benefits. If your relationship breaks down, determinations about custody or visitation will be based on the child’s best interests rather than who the child’s parents are.

If you move to another state, your legal parent-child relationship will be recognized, even if that state is otherwise hostile to LGBTQ+ families. That’s because adoption orders are final and cannot be undone. In fact, the U.S. Constitution requires that all states and jurisdictions recognize all validly issued court judgments, including adoption orders.

In today’s climate, as LGBTQ+ people continue to bring children into their families and state laws struggle to keep up, obtaining a court order is the most certain way to ensure your parental rights are recognized and fully protected.

In most states, securing LGBTQ+ parental rights through a stepparent or second parent adoption usually entails submitting a petition to the court, providing supporting affidavits and other documentation, engaging in background checks, home studies, or supplying references, paying a filing fee, and attending a court hearing. The good news is that some states have simplified the process for same-sex couples and other families who use assisted reproduction. A few states offer a streamlined process called confirmatory adoption for couples who are already legal parents under state law.

Fighting for true equality

Today, I am fortunate to work as Family Equality’s Director of LGBTQ+ Family Law and Policy. I am thrilled to be able to dedicate my career to helping LGBTQ+ people form and protect their families, and to fight for true equality by improving the legal landscape for all families.

In my role, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of confusion when it comes to stepparent, second parent, or confirmatory adoption. Every day people are asking whether it’s really necessary. They wonder if a birth certificate or marriage is enough, and they express frustration with how the terminology (“stepparent” or “second parent”) feels wrong. I understand. It felt wrong to me, too. But what feels right is knowing that even though I might have been recognized as my child’s legal parent under my state’s laws, because I have an adoption order, I have additional security. What feels right is knowing that no one can take that away from me. Given the patchwork of parentage laws across the U.S. and the bias and discrimination LGBTQ+ families still face, choosing to obtain a court order confirming my legal parentage means that my daughter and I are protected.

I adopted Ida during National Adoption Month in 2017. Today, that sweet girl is six. She is joyful and playful and energetic. Her smile, now missing a front tooth, still brightens my day. I am hers, and she is mine. And because of our adoption, that legal bond is forever.

Meg York, Esq. is the director of LGBTQ+ family law and policy and senior policy counsel at Family Equality.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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