By MATT WALTERS
Capital News Service
LANSING – A controversial new Senate bill would allow two unmarried people to adopt a child.
If passed, it would change the law that allows only single individuals or married couples to adopt.
Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, the main sponsor, said the motivation is to improve the lives of children in the adoption process.
“Having two responsible parents is important for a child’s emotional security,” Warren said.
Second parent adoption is legal in 15 states, including Indiana and Illinois.
But Dan Jarvis, research and policy director at the Michigan Family Forum, said Michigan would be unwise to legalize second parent adoptions.
“We’re concerned about creating families with unmarried parents,” Jarvis said.
He said children are better off with one mother and one father and that the bill would create awkward relationships between unmarried parents and children.
“This bill has very few parameters on who could adopt. It doesn’t even require that the parents live together,” Jarvis said.
The bill would allow same-sex partners to jointly adopt a child. They are unable to be married in Michigan, making it nearly impossible for both partners to adopt the same child.
Warren said, “Marriage and adoption are separate issues. This bill isn’t just referring to same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage is a whole other discussion.”
She said that the state shouldn’t decide what types of couples can adopt and what types can’t.
“Michigan is diverse and shouldn’t make decisions about people’s lifestyles,” Warren said.
Sen. Steven Bieda, D-Warren, a co-sponsor, said the adoption process needs modernization and that the legislation would be a step in that direction.
Bieda said that current laws don’t account for two unmarried adults who wish to adopt, regardless of gender or romantic involvement.
He added that no matter what the relationship is between the adults, the second parent would still have to go through an extensive screening process and thorough background check before being awarded parental rights.
“There have been situations where a brother and sister were looking to adopt but only one could be the child’s parent,” Bieda said.
Michigan also doesn’t allow a birth parent to legally share parental responsibilities with an unmarried partner.
He said that becomes a problem when a single parent simply wants greater stability for his or her child.
“In some situations, you have one legal parent and one de facto parent,” Bieda said, adding that allowing another person to be legally responsible would provide greater stability.
“In some cases, the de facto parent is unable to even be a child’s emergency contact if they get sick,” Bieda said.
Warren said that the bill would provide more financial security for adopted children by allowing them to receive benefits, such as health insurance, through two parents instead of one.
“A high percentage of families in poverty are single-parent families,” Warren said.
But the Family Forum’s Jarvis said an adult could still help support a child regardless of their legal relationship.
“There’s nothing stopping someone from buying a child health insurance if they wanted to,” Jarvis said.
Christina Fecher, media relations representative at the Department of Human Services, said the department hasn’t had an opportunity to look at the bill and can’t comment yet.
Fecher said, “What I can tell you is that we will work with our legislative partners to ensure children have safe, loving and stable homes.”
Similar bills were introduced in the past two legislative sessions but died.
Both Warren and Bieda say they’re optimistic about the proposal’s future, even with Republican majorities in the House and Senate and a Republican governor.
“The leadership in the executive office has been focused on outcomes, and this would be a positive outcome for Michigan,” Warren said.
The bill is pending in the Senate Families, Seniors and Human Services Committee.
A House version is also in committee. Its sponsors include Reps. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Jon Switalski, D-Warren; David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti; Lesia Liss, D-Warren; and Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By MATT WALTERS