Guest Commentary

Because of narrow-mindedness and arcane laws, same-sex parents face incredible legal challenges

He trips heading into the kitchen and knocks his forehead against the doorway. He topples while squatting to examine the grain of the hardwood floor of our Brooklyn, N.Y., home. He tumbles headlong from the couch while practicing, for the 38th time, his dismount. All completely normal toddler mishaps. Yet as I watch the latest knot form on his forehead, a matching knot forms in my stomach.

"No falling until Saturday," I've been telling Miles, trailing fretfully after him. "Remember, we currently have a no-falling policy."

I'm not normally so intense. Falling is part of walking, after all. But a woman from the court—a probation officer, actually—is coming for a home visit. This is a routine part of the process of Robin, my partner, adopting Miles.

Even though she is indisputably his mom, Robin has to formally adopt Miles—I gave birth to him—in order to be his parent in the eyes of the state of New York. We've known this for a long time, and we've mostly just gritted our teeth and accepted it. We want to have as many legal protections as a family as we can. In addition to being domestic partners in the city of New York (the state does not offer a domestic partnership), we have gone through all sorts of legal hoopla to have power of attorney, medical proxy, wills and whatever else we could think of to approximate the many financial, property and inheritance rights of marriage.

Adoption is the final step in Robin's legal relationship with Miles. And this home visit is the final step in the adoption.

Thankfully, New York's laws aren't as arcane as Arizona's laws. If we lived in Tucson, for example, Robin could not become Miles' legal parent. Lawyer Kathie Gummere earlier this year told the Tucson Weekly that only one person in a same-sex union in Arizona can be considered the legal parent.

For most of the process, I've managed to stay matter-of-fact. Yeah, it bugged me that we both had to submit personal letters of reference to the court. And, yeah, it was a pain that we both had to be examined by doctors to show that we are in good health. And get fingerprinted at a police station. And submit copies of our driver's licenses, multiple official copies of our birth certificates, copies of our Social Security cards, letters of employment, and so on.

But this home visit is messing with my mind. All I know is that a probation officer is coming to our house, and that she will check for certain safety measures, and ask us for more paperwork. And that she has the power to say that we do or do not have a suitable home.

All this week, my imagination has run wild with unlikely scenarios. I've pictured her weighing him and looking in our cupboards to see what we feed him. ("He's a bit slim," she might say, pursing her lips.) Or examining him all over for bruises or marks. Or telling us that, dear God, our Christmas tree is a hazard, and why didn't we know that? And if we fail the test, we get to keep being Not a Real Family.

Meanwhile, under the panic is a growing fury—all this, because we can't get legally married in our state. I understand that the rigmarole surrounding adoptions is meant to ensure that children are going to good, safe homes. But today, I'm grappling with the reality of a mysterious authority figure coming into our home and judging us. It's making me very, very angry.

Why are we going through this and spending tons of money on, frankly, a pretty crappy lawyer? Why was Robin unable to sign any of the consent forms when Miles had minor surgery a few months ago? Because we can't get married. And why can't we get married? Because people are bigoted, afraid, judgmental, traditional, grossed-out and narrow-minded.

Is it absurd that Robin has to apply to be a parent to her own child? Yes. Is it invasive that someone is going to scrutinize our home and our lives? Of course. (And thank goodness we don't live in a one-parent-only-adoption state like Arizona.) Yet we want Miles to have the security of having a legal tie to both of us. So when the probation officer knocks, I will grit my teeth, answer the door and smile. Until then, I reserve the right to be annoyed, anxious and slightly bitter.

I think we need a party when this is over.

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