Over the past 13 years, adoption laws in Utah have reflected the prevailing attitudes towards gay marriage in the state with conservative lawmakers generally putting up barriers that would allow same-sex couples to legally adopt a child. Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D – Salt Lake City) feels that the political winds are shifting, and she intends to spearhead the charge for legal adoption by non-married couples as she proposes HB 214 – Adoption Modifications.
The bill, if it were to pass, would set Utah’s adoption rules back to standards set before the 2000 legislative session, by allowing an unmarried couples to adopt children.
“Our laws are based on ‘cohabitation’ rather than sexual orientation,” Chavez-Houck tells Utah Political Capitol, “and these provisions make it harder for heterosexual, as well as homosexual couples to adopt.”
Under current Utah law, if any couple (same-sex or opposite-sex) is not married, only one of the two can legally adopt a child. But what happens if 12 years down the road the adopting partner dies? Utah law does not recognize the other parent even though they’ve raised the child for 12 years, and the State would take away the child and put them into the foster care system. Could that parent then attempt to adopt the child back? Yes. But that could take weeks (if not months), countless amounts of paperwork, and of course money – all while both the surviving parent and the child are mourning the loss of their loved one.
With this in mind, Chavez-Houck is planning for a battle.
“This is the sixth year I have run this type of legislation, and I will keep doing it until we can get the law to change. I want to do what I can to help members of the LGBT community start a conversation about treating their families the same [as heterosexual families].” Chavez-Houck is also quick to remind people that this bill would affect heterosexual couples as well. “A couple in my district, that happen to be heterosexual but chose not to get married, were concerned about the adoption laws when the woman in the relationship became the godmother of her brothers children. She could legally adopt the children, but her long time [male] partner could not also adopt the children because, as an aunt, she was not a biological parent and, therefore, could not petition the court.” Apart from just couples, the bill would also effect single parents, who wants to name the child’s grandparent as their co-legal guardian just in case anything happens to the single parent. Current law prohibits that from happening.
“Strong believers in parental rights should get behind this bill.” Chavez-Houck said, noting that a biological parent should have the legal right to designate whomever they wish to become legal guardians of their children in the event that they neither the biological parents are able to care for their children – regardless of sexual orientation or marriage status.
Chavez-Houck hopes to see success with her bill this year, due in large part to the large freshman class. “We have a whole bunch of new legislators who need to hear these stories.”
To contact Rep. Houck, Click Here or call 801-891-9292
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Great Bill 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 . -1 . -2 . -3 . -4 . -5 Poor Bill