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Second-Parent Curbs Driving Same-Sex Couple from Arizona

Second-Parent Curbs Driving Same-Sex Couple from Arizona

Newspaper article

By: Stephanie Innes

Date: December 22, 2005

Source: Innes, Stephanie. "Second-Parent Curbs Driving Same-sex Couple from Arizona." Arizona Daily Star (December 22, 2005).

About the Author: Stephanie Innes is a newspaper reporter with the Arizona Daily Star and a professor of journalism at the University of Arizona. Her articles focus on faith and values.

INTRODUCTION

In the 1980s and 1990s, as same-sex couples worked toward gaining more civil and social rights in the United States, the issue of gay adoption presented a complex issue for courts, legislatures, and individuals and families. The topic of gay parenting is not new. As a result of social pressures to conform to a heterosexual ideal, gay men and women (or persons struggling with their sexual orientation) have historically entered into heterosexual marriages, had children, and later divorced, parenting their children as a "gay parent" without fanfare. Until the past two decades, gay parents generally kept their sexuality a secret or treated it as a very private matter disclosed only to close friends and family.

As homosexuality in the United States has gained greater acceptance, increasing numbers of gay couples openly choose to have children within a same-sex relationship. For lesbian couples this may involve artificial insemination of one of the partners, giving the child a biological mother with full parenting rights and a non-biological mother whose rights—depending on the state in which she resides—may vary from full parental rights to absolutely none.

Gay male couples generally use adoption of a non-biological child in their journey to parenthood, although surrogacy—hiring a woman to carry an egg fertilized with one male partner's sperm to term, at which time the baby is adopted by the male couple—is gaining popularity among gay male couples.

Each of these parenting processes presents legal and social challenges for the same-sex couples, the children in these families, and for society and government. Opponents of gay adoption claim that the children in these families suffer from social and sexual problems, as a result of being raised by two parents of the same gender. Some research studies indicate that, although being raised by gay parents does not lead to higher rates of homosexuality among offspring, the children of gay couples do experiment with homosexuality to a greater extent than do children of heterosexual parents.

Same-sex adoption proponents point to a larger (and growing) range of published research studies that show little or no difference in developmental and emotional health between children of gay parents and children of heterosexual parents. With endorsements from the American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Psychological Association, gay parenting is gaining acceptance.

PRIMARY SOURCE

Last week, Jeanine, Nichole and Isaac Soterwood left a home they loved, solid careers, and a wide circle of friends.

The state of Arizona does not allow them to be a legal family, so the Soterwoods moved from Tucson to California, where Nichole and Jeanine will file papers to become the legal parents of Isaac, who is 22 months old.

"This is tough for us. We love Tucson. And I had a great workplace and a promising, good career," said Nichole, 35, who was a systems engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems. "I was disappointed to leave and my co-workers at Raytheon were disappointed. But they understood that family comes first."

Like most other states, Arizona law does not allow unmarried couples to do what's known as second-parent adoption—when the non-biological parent adopts a partner's child. Stepparents in heterosexual unions can adopt the children of their spouses in Arizona. Gay couples can be foster parents. And gay people, as long as they are single, can adopt. But couples like the Soterwoods, who can't legally marry here, can't both be parents of a child.

SAME-SEX QUANDARY

Gay rights advocates say it's a growing issue because more same-sex couples are raising children. But challenging Arizona's law could backfire—lawmakers could react by passing laws prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting, as they did in Mississippi in 2000.

"Unfortunately, the political climate in Arizona is one that would not be welcoming of that change," said Amy Kobeta, director of public affairs for the Arizona Human Rights Fund. "We have a conservative Legislature, and the topic of gays and lesbians being parents is a very hotbutton issue with the conservative movement."

Research by the city of Tucson's Urban Planning and Design Department, based on U.S. Census data, shows 1,253 same-sex male couples in Pima County, and 1,399 same-sex female couples, although many gay rights advocates believe those numbers are conservative because of underreporting.

At least one of three lesbian couples and one of five gay male couples are raising children nationwide, according to a 2004 research paper from the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, based on an analysis of 2000 Census data. The research also says Pima County's numbers are higher than the national average for same-sex couples living with minor children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy paper in 2002 endorsing second-parent adoption laws for same-sex couples, saying that children who are born to or adopted by one member of a same-sex couple deserve the security of two legally recognized parents.

Same-sex ballot measures

But at the moment, gay and lesbian rights advocates in Arizona are focused on preventing the passage of a proposed constitutional amendment that's slated to appear on the November 2006 general election ballot, rather than lobbying for second-parent adoption rights. The constitutional amendment, backed by a coalition that believes children should be raised in families with married, heterosexual parents, would prohibit same-sex couples from marrying and also would bar local governments from offering insurance benefits to domestic partners.

"I think the majority of Arizonans would agree that children being raised in a family of one man and one woman—a husband and a wife—is the environment we want to have in Arizona," said Nathan Sproul, a spokesman for Protect Marriage Arizona, the group backing the proposed amendment.

State Sen. Karen S. Johnson, the GOP chair of the Senate's Family Services Committee, did not return calls about second-parent adoption but sent a message through an assistant that she does not support same-sex couples. In her legislative biography, Johnson pledges to stand "resolutely against the homosexual agenda."

Kobeta noted there are alternatives same-sex parents in Arizona can use now to give the second parent power of attorney for emergency medical decisions and school record access. But she said the options are complicated and expensive, and schools and hospitals don't necessarily respect them.

Local attorney Amelia Craig Cramer knows the imperfection of those options too well. She is the former executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and former managing attorney for the Western office of Lambda Legal, a national group that works for the full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. She also is raising a 6-year-old child with her female partner.

"I'm the legal parent and it's in my will that my partner has guardianship, but that is not a guarantee," Craig Cramer said. "It terrifies me to think about what would happen if I were to die or become incapacitated."

2003 civil union in Vermont

The Soterwoods met as graduate students in applied mathematics at the University of Arizona in 1998. They had a commitment ceremony with 65 friends and family in 2001.

In 2003, they again exchanged vows, when they obtained a civil union in Vermont. That's when they also took the same last name, a combination of Nichole's surname, Soter, and Jeanine's last name, Smallwood.

They always knew they wanted a family and they wanted to live in Tucson, which they describe as a diverse and accepting community.

Nichole gave birth to Isaac in February 2004 and is his sole legal guardian. Every six months since his birth, she's had to fill out papers to give power of attorney to Jeanine, so Jeanine can legally make health and school decisions about Isaac.

"If, God forbid, we were to split up, I'd have no rights as a parent," said Jeanine, 31, who recently finished her doctorate at the UA, where she was an adjunct engineering instructor.

Jeanine and Nichole ultimately decided to move to Santa Clara, Calif., where Nichole already has a job and they will be near Jeanine's parents. One of the first things they'll do is sign on to California's domestic partner registry and find a lawyer to guide them through a second-parent adoption.

"I've heard of folks who have left Tucson and adopted children in another state. But they have to establish residency in that other state before they come back. It's a real hardship and it underscores the fact that we have a somewhat broken system in the United States," said Kent Burbank, executive director of Wingspan, Tucson's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center.

"If there are more people like Nichole and Jeanine leaving, it is a big loss, not just for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but for the community as a whole."

SIGNIFICANCE

In 1977, Florida's state legislature passed a law banning gay adoptions; in spite of recent challenges to the law, it stands, making Florida the only state in the United States to specifically ban gay adoption. Other states, including Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah, make it very difficult for same-sex couples to adopt. However, in all of these states, gay parents are permitted to act as foster parents. Gay adoption supporters point to this policy as hypocritical, asking why gay parents can act as substitute parents, but not as full legal parents.

More same-sex couples wishing to adopt and gain full legal protections are moving to the nine states that permit gay adoption. Part of a demographic shift, these gay couples seek out states with gay-friendly legal and social policies. While the raw number of gay couples who move for such reasons remains small as of 2006, the trend is of interest to sociologists, marketing experts, and economists, who point to a possible "brain drain" of mobile, higher-income couples with the means to move as needed and relocate based on gay-friendly policies.

At the same time, groups that oppose gay adoption, such as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and Focus on the Family, are working in sixteen states to put laws in place that would ban adoption by any gay person. The Ohio Restoration Project, a conservative Christian organization headed by Reverend Russell Johnson, seeks to ban all adoptions by gay individuals and families. Johnson is an activist who vigorously promoted passage of the Ohio Defense of Marriage Act ballot initiative in 2004. The Act defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman and makes any legal procedures created by same-sex couples in an imitation of marital rights (such as child custody or powers of attorney) illegal. Johnson currently is urging Ohio state legislators to pass a law banning gay adoption.

Gay rights groups, such as the Human Rights Council, claim that such laws punish many children within the foster care system, who are in need of loving, stable homes. The Child Welfare League of America, an umbrella organization representing more than 900 human services organizations, states that research shows gay parents to be as nurturing as heterosexual parents, and that decades of studies of gay parents and gay foster parents back up their claim. According to the CWLA, the crisis of the foster care system in the United States, with more than 500,000 children under state custody, would deepen if gay individuals and couples could no longer adopt or act as foster parents.

Adoptions by same-sex couples are currently legal in Andorra, Belgium, England, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Wales. Other countries permit "step-children" adoptions in which a partner in any couple can adopt a child.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Gerstmann, Evan. Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Periodicals

Adam, Barry D. "The Defense of Marriage Act and American Exceptionalism: The 'Gay Marriage' Panic in the United States." Journal of the History of Sexuality. 12 (April 2003): 259-276.

Web sites

American Academy of Pediatrics. "AAP Says Children of Same-Sex Couples Deserve Two Legally Recognized Parents." 〈http://www.aap.org/advocacy/archives/febsamesex.htm〉 (accessed February 28, 2006).

American Psychiatric Association. "Adoption and Co-Parenting of Children by Same-Sex Couples." 〈http://www.psych.org/news_room/press_releases/adoption_coparenting121802.pdf〉 (accessed February 28, 2006).

Child Welfare League of America. 〈http://www.cwla.org〉 (accessed February 28, 2006).

Ohio Restoration Project. 〈http://www.ohiorestorationpro-ject.com〉 (accessed February 28, 2006).

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