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Families Rally for Adoption Bill

Dozens of Utah families and gay rights supporters braved bad weather on Feb. 13 to rally at the capitol in support of a bill seeking to allow gay couples to adopt children.

Drafted by local gay rights group Equality Utah, HB 318 Utah Adoption Amendments seeks to lift the restriction on allowing unmarried (cohabitating) couples to adopt children. Utah law was changed in 2000 to allow only single people and legally married couples to adopt. As gay marriage is banned in Utah first by the Defense of Marriage Act and then by constitutional amendment in 2004, same-sex couples are ineligible.

Utah is one of only three states that prohibits such adoptions. Florida and Mississippi are the others.

HB 318 sponsor Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, told the crowd that she wants to change this in order to make Utah “a better place for everyone.” “I do this in part for a very selfish reason: I do it for my kids and for future generations,” she said. “When one is fortunate enough to be a parent, you see the world through different eyes: Everything is amplified and the warts and joys of our world become more apparent to you. You see threats to our environment as something that not only hurts you as an individual, but your children and their peers. You are pained by social injustice, because you fear your child may be victim or witness to that injustice.”

Chavez-Houck added that she was “puzzled” by the state’s attempts to “define and mandate love and want for a family.” She encouraged those in attendance to continue to fight for change, and to hold public officials responsible for preserving the constitutional values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“It is my hope, that you will be able to voice why our current adoption law should be changed; to talk about the unrest that the current law imposes on your lives; to help you rest easy when you get sick, knowing that your partner will be there in all capacities for your children – to have what so many of us take for granted,” she said.

Laura Milliken Grey, a Salt Lake City attorney who specializes in adoption cases thanked Chavez-Houck for sponsoring the bill. She told the crowd about the difficulty of helping gay couples – including foster parents – secure protections for their children such as “a stable home, inheritance rights, health insurance, financial and emotional support and social security death and disability benefits.”

“Since [2000], other lawyers and I have tried other techniques to protect GLBT families, but our legal avenues are few,” she said. “Now, kids languish in foster care when they could be placed with a loving gay couple, even when a kid in foster care is related by blood to the couple. Now, after the anguishing loss in a recent court case in Utah, a non-bio parent has no right to a relationship with the child she or he has raised if the couple breaks up. We’ve seen heartbreaking incidents of kids being denied contact with their other parent by members of our very own community. That is deplorable.”

Grey challenged gay parents in Utah to confront those in the legislature who are making their children “second-class citizens.”

She encouraged them to educate five people about the injustice of Utah adoption law and to encourage them to also get involved.

“If we do this, we can have faith that with time, energy and perseverance, we will achieve justice and inclusion for our families. That’s all we want,” she said.

At press time, HB 318 is still languishing in the House Rules Committee, which assigns bills to legislative committees for public hearing. Will Carlson, Manager of Public Policy for Equality Utah, has called the organization’s attempts to convince the committee to assign the bill “an uphill battle.”

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