Thursday, May 31, 2007

Becoming a family

Tomorrow is Blogging for LGBT Families Day. June 1st also happens to be close to the anniversary of our second-parent adoption (four years now).

When Trillian and I began looking to buy a house in the States, our geographical limitations were determined, at least in part by the fact that we are gay. And that we were already planning on becoming parents. We didn't want to live right in the particular city where I worked, but it is situated in such a way that we had a choice of two states and numerous combinations of counties and localities. While the big city was the most progressive of the areas, as far as gay rights go, we had a list of reasons for going with the next locality down on the list: property values (i.e. being able to afford a house), good public schools, and lower taxes while still being close enough to take advantage of several positives the city has to offer.

It was an easy decision to rule out one of the two states as a place to live. While there were a few localities that had welcoming communities, same-sex adoption was not allowed by law. And because they outlawed relationships "approximating marriage" (or some such wording), there was some question as to whether or not they would honor wills and powers-of-attorney that same-sex couples had drawn up to grant each other the sort of rights married couples automatically have. Even if we hadn't planned on having a child, we didn't want to put ourselves in that position.

We settled into our house a little more than a year before we started trying for a baby. And part of the way through the pregnancy, we began to look into the process of second-parent adoption. We looked into two different lawyers who came highly recommended both in conversations with others and online. The lawyer we went with had a set fee for second-parent adoptions (with the oh-so-legal caveat that unusual cases would incur an additional cost). She had been through the process so many times that she had a checklist.

Part of the process involved changing jurisdictions so that our case would be considered by a particular judge who had decided there was no reason not to treat adoptions like ours as step-parent adoptions. This, at least, addressed one of my biggest issues with the usual process--why require a home study when the child will remain in the house even if the adoption isn't granted? In lieu of a home study, we submitted letters from friends and family, basically to indicate that we were in a committed relationship and had planned on having this child together. We still have these letters, and it is very touching to go back and read the wonderful things they say. We also put together a "family album," including pictures of our house, pets, and (since I had a chance to add a few pictures between Scooter's birth and the final submission of our case) some showing Scooter with Trillian's parents.

On our court date, we had to travel to the nearby jurisdiction. Even though our lawyer assured us that the whole purpose of our presence was so that the judge could sign off on the adoption order, I still felt a little nervous. The proceedings occurred in the ceremonial courtroom, the sort you see in movies with dark wood paneling and a significantly elevated bench. A diverse bunch gathered there--same-sex families, step-parents adopting their new spouse's children, grandparents who found themselves raising grandchildren--but we were all there out of love for our children. The judge began by saying that he looked forward to the two times a month he presided over this particular court and had the chance to help families achieve legal status. He then called each family up, ascertained their identities, and declared the adoption completed. After everyone's turn, he then posed for pictures with the families. We have one with Trillian and me next to the judge, Scooter tucked into his sling.

After the proceedings, we headed back to the parking garage. The nerves had settled and we returned to more mundane concerns, such as diaper changes and feedings. I'm not entirely sure what I had expected, some thunderclap of feeling like a family. But as Trillian and I walked along, we realized that the bang of a gavel had not fundamentally changed our family. True, we now had legal recognition of our roles in each others' lives, but we generally won't need to call specifically on those rights outside of crises. And while relief does accompany the knowledge that we have papers to shove in people's faces if the occasion arises, the adoption changed absolutely nothing about the family we are on a daily basis. We created that on our own.

1 comment:

Mad Hatter said...

Mouse, I love these posts. There is so much I don't know about the hurdles non-conventional families face. You raise my awareness on so many issues.