April DeBoer, Jayne Rowse Challenge Michigan Same-Sex Partner Adoption Ban

Lesbian Couple Challenges Discriminatory Adoption Laws

Two mothers filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday morning designed to protect their three children and many others in Michigan.

Detroit-area lesbian couple April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse have adopted two boys and one girl over the past two years. The three children, who have been raised since just after birth by DeBower and Rowse, would otherwise be in Michigan's foster care system, according to WXYZ.

In his recent State of the State address, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder praised parents who chose to adopt in Michigan, bringing special attention to Lamar and Holly Moreland, heterosexual parents in Canton, Mich., for adopting two of their three children. But because Michigan's Adoption Code prohibits joint adoption by unmarried or same-sex couples, each of DeBower and Rowse's children has only been adopted by one of the two parents.

"Jayne and I love our children as deeply as any other parent loves their kids," Rowse said in a statement. "We just want our children to have the same protections all other children have, so that our kids know they can never be taken from either of us."

Rowse and DeBoer's lawsuit claims that Michigan's Adoption Code violates the right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. According to the Detroit Free Press, the suit says children who have unmarried second parents are denied a wide range of benefits available to children of married couples. Since Rowse and DeBoer are not both legal parents to all of their children, only one of them can make legal and medical decisions for each child. If one partner dies, the other has no legal claim to the children she did not legally adopt.

Michigan is one of five states that bans joint adoption by unmarried parents. In the past seven years, several proposals have been introduced to allow second-parent adoption, but none have been passed. In 2011, two new state proposals, House Bill 4249 and Senate Bill 169, were introduced and are currently sitting in committee.

A spokeswoman for the governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On the federal level, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act -- legislation introduced in the House and Senate last year -- would make it illegal to discriminate in adoption and foster care placement based on the marital status and sexual orientation of parents.

"With this bill they are looking past partisan politics," said Emily Dievendorf, director of policy for Equality Michigan. "It's a really great example to set for the states: 'We can't wait for you to make progress before we take care of our kids.'"

Michigan has had a steady increase of households run by same-sex couples, jumping 41 percent from 2000 to 2010 for a total of 21,782, according to the 2010 census. At the same time, same-sex couple adoption has risen nationally, despite barriers to adoption and rights for children.

Deivendorf said that while similar legislation and lawsuits have not led to change in the past, she is hopeful that research about the positive effects of two-parent families will trigger change.

"We've gone through nearly a decade of fighting to get what all psychologists and social workers and scientists say is the best way to meet children's needs," she said. "This is an opportunity for the state government to wake up and do something about it before it becomes an embarrassment."

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