February 26, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Testimony: Allowing same-sex couples to adopt would expand opportunities for children

April DeBoer, from left, and Jayne Rowse with DeBoer's attorney, Dana Nessel, at the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse for the case of DeBoer v. Snyder on Tuesday. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit —Allowing same-sex couples to jointly adopt could help find much-needed homes for hard-to-place children in Michigan’s bulging foster care system, according to a child welfare expert who testified Wednesday during a federal trial challenging Michigan’s adoption law, which bars same-sex couples from adopting each other’s children.

University of Michigan law professor and child welfare advocate Vivek Sankaran said nearly 14,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system need homes. Allowing joint adoption by same-sex couples would expand the pool of potential parents for those children, which includes about 3,500 orphans.

The plaintiffs in the trial, Hazel Park residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are both nurses, living as a couple, who have separately adopted three special-needs children. They are seeking to adopt each other’s children.

They are also challenging the constitutionality of the Michigan Marriage Protection Amendment, which was passed by voters in 2004 and restricts same-sex couples from marrying.

Sankaran said the children adopted by DeBoer and Rowse were children who were dealt a “tragic hand by life.”

Most of the children languishing in the foster case system are either minorities or have special needs, said Sankaran.

Same-sex couples don’t have any incentives to adopt from the foster care system because they cannot adopt jointly, he said.

He added that if one of them adopts a child as a single person, which the state allows, the other has no legal rights to custody of the child if the other parent dies or is incapacitated.

“That person (the surviving parent) is like a stranger to the child,” Sankaran said. “Legally, they have no right to the child.”

Plaintiffs attorney Carole Stanyar said her clients have provided a caring and stable environment for their young children despite the legal limitations that make everyday tasks such as taking one of their children to the doctor an ordeal.

Also on Wednesday, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld continued his testimony about same-sex relationships and the children raised by gay and lesbian parents.

“It’s clear that children raised by same-sex parents are not disadvantaged any more than children raised by heterosexual couples,” testified Rosenfeld, adding the outcome of children of same-sex couples “is just as good” as those raised by heterosexual couples.

But Rosenfeld’s method of research was questioned Wednesday by Assistant Attorney General Kristin Heyse regarding the sample size he used in his research.

Heyse in cross-examination told Rosenfeld that “your opinion is due in part to other people’s (statistical analysis and studies).”

The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman. It is expected to last through next week. Testimony continues Thursday.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Texas struck down that state’s ban on gay marriage on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did not say gay marriages could be performed immediately. Instead, he stayed the decision, citing a likely appeal.

“Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote in his opinion. “These Texas laws deny Plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex.”

Seventeen states have legalized gay marriage.

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