Single-parent adoption is common option for gay couples

June 24, 1995|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Staff Writer

Until recently, few gay men became parents through adoption. Most have children from earlier, heterosexual relationships.

"More gay people are coming out at an earlier age and exploring issues that didn't occur to older gays," says psychologist Ken Morgen. "There are alternative fertilization techniques that allow people to have children in ways they couldn't before."

Dr. Morgen and his partner, physician Sam Westrick, are one of two male couples in Families With Pride, a local support group of gay and lesbian parents. The 60-couple organization, which meets every month, is sponsoring a gay and lesbian parenting conference from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Towson State University. Speakers will be Dr. April Martin, author of "The Lesbian and Gay Parenting Handbook: Creating and Raising Our Families," and Dr. Morgen.

Most same-sex couples raising children are lesbian. Often one partner is artificially inseminated and bears a child for both women to raise. However, many lesbians who delayed having children or have difficulty conceiving are adopting children, says Marla Hollandsworth, a clinical associate professor of litigation at the University of Baltimore Law School.

In most states, homosexuals adopting children are doing it as single parents rather than couples.

"To be 'out' to the court just waves a red flag," Ms. Hollandsworth says. "Any lawyer a gay couple gets is going to advise them to lay low. If they don't ask, you don't tell."

Ms. Hollandsworth says she knows of a dozen such single-parent adoptions in the Baltimore area during the past several years.

But gays' ability to adopt is often a district by district, judge by judge matter. The states of Florida and New Hampshire, for instance, have made it illegal for homosexuals to adopt children, while courts in York, Pa., and Washington have allowed co-parent adoptions by same-sex couples, says Ms. Hollandsworth.

The National Council for Adoption, a nonprofit information and advocacy group, doesn't have a position directed at homosexual couples.

"In most locations, it is very difficult for two unrelated adults to adopt the same child, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual," says Mary Beth Style, vice president for standards and practice of the National Council for Adoption.

"If an adoption agency is going to weigh the odds for the child, it picks parents who have a legal commitment to each other. . . . Chances are that single parents are going to be at the bottom of the list.

"We recommend that we keep the focus on the child and not on adults' needs and wants. That you look at every situation and say of the available candidates, 'What is best for this child?' "

Both Duncan and Trevor Morgen-Westrick are single-parent adoptions. Duncan was adopted in Washington where the courts have established a track record of gay adoptions and where law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Trevor was adopted in Baltimore County.

The Morgen-Westricks will not disclose the identities of the judges who granted the adoptions. And they will not say who is the adoptive parent. "It's really not relevant because we're both the children's parents," Dr. Morgen says. "We just don't want one person being looked at as the 'real' parent and the other person being a nonentity."

However, it's a situation that can cause considerable anxiety. If the adoptive parent dies -- or the couple's relationship ends -- the non-adoptive parent's parental relationship is not protected. In the case of death, one of the adoptive parent's relatives would have greater legal authority than the surviving partner to adopt any children, unless specific provisions were made.

If the adoptive parent loses his job, the children cannot benefit from their other parent's health insurance coverage. If the non-adoptive parent dies, the children cannot collect his Social Security.

No co-parent adoptions have been granted in Maryland, according to Ms. Hollandsworth.

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