Ellen Andersen

Recognizing Our Families

Filed By Ellen Andersen | April 13, 2006 10:07 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement

The Indiana Court of Appeals just issued a decision in a doozy of a case involving two lesbian mothers, the daughter they adopted, a judge who tried to subvert the adoption. Here's the background, courtesy of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented the family together with Indianapolis lawyer Barbara Baird.

Becki Hamilton and Kim Brennan had served as foster parents for several children. In 2004, they were asked by the State of Indiana to foster an abandoned baby and to consider adopting her. Hamilton and Brennan agreed immediately and brought the child home when she was two days old.

When Morgan County Circuit Judge Matthew Hanson, who was supervising the baby's foster care placement realized that she had been placed with an unmarried couple, he ordered the Office of Family and Children to find a married couple to adopt her instead.

In a bid to keep the child Hamilton and Brennan had come to think of as their daughter, they turned to neighboring Marion County. Superior Court Judge Charles Dieter found the adoption to be in the child's best interest and granted it.

Hamilton and Brennan then returned to the Morgan County court and petitioned for their daughter to be released from her status as a ward of the state. Judge Hanson refused and ruled that the adoption decree was invalid, because Indiana Law does not permit unmarried couples to jointly adopt a child. He ordered that the child be removed from Hamilton and Brennan's care and placed in the custody of another couple.

Hamilton and Brennan immediately appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. (Fortunately, they were permitted to retain custody of their daughter during the appeals process.) They argued that the adoption was in the best interest of their daughter, and that the Morgan County court had no authority to invalidate an adoption decree issued by a Marion County court. The Indiana Department of Child Services simultaneously appealed the Marion County court's ruling, arguing that unmarried couples may not adopt jointly, although they may adopt as single parents. (In other words, it would have been okay had only one of the women filed for adoption.)

Enter the Indiana Court of Appeals. By a 2-1 vote, the court ruled that the Marion County court got it right--that unmarried couples can adopt jointly when it's in the best interest of the child. It also ruled that the Morgan County court had no authority to invalidate a ruling by a Marion County court.

So after over a year of litigation, Hamilton, Brennan, and their daughter can rest quietly, at least for the moment. They've always been a family--but now the law recognizes it.

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I'm a total legal "idiot". Since they won, does the state have to reimburse their legal fees? I'm guessing that even with lambda's help it wasn't cheap for them. Sad they had to go through all of it. Happy they won!

Linda Perdue | April 14, 2006 7:43 AM

Paula, community involvement in the case has been limited due to shielding of the clients. Some fundraising was done early in the case, but Lambda took over to work with Barb and Lambda has absorbed the majority of the cost. As you know, Lambda looks at cases that can have broad impact across the country since their budget is small (compared to Focus on the Family at $261M plus). Pat Logue, from Lambda's Midwest office, argued the case successfully in February. Makes me proud to be a Lambda board member!! Indiana rarely has these kinds of successes. We're lucky to have local attorneys like Barb who will take them on, regardless of financial constraints!

I'm vaguely familiar with lambda. We attended their fundraiser 2 years ago. The price was a bit over our means, but we felt it was a worthy cause. I think that is the most frustrating part. We ARE going up against several organizations with such large warchests.

Then we have the problem of so many competing organizations asking for our donations:church, Hrc. Lambda. Indiana equality. Contrary to stereotypes my partner and I aren't made of money. All of these organizations are worthy, we just can't give to each. Sometimes we don't know which is *best*
Too bad they can't all get together and share resources. But then I see the infighting just in local efforts and it really bums me out. Our strongest feature is the diversity among us, but is also the thing that makes it so difficult for us all to just get along sometimes.

Paula, you are right - all of these organizations are worthy. My feeling is that when you don't have a lot of resources, you give a little to each one.

As far as sharing resources, Indiana Equality is a statewide organization made up of many local groups working together to make life better for the GLBT population in Indiana. In spite of perceived infighting, it has had major successes and needs the continued support of as many people here in Indiana as possible.

What we can't contribute in dollars, we contribute with our philosophy of changing one person at a time. It takes alot longer, but it is really cool when, after months of just living our lives and mentioning what we did over the weekend, the lightbulb finally goes on and someone says "You guys are just like us" Most of the time the follow it up with a nervous "except the gay part", but thats OK too.

The discouraging part about this approach is that it does take lots of time, and that is something we don't have lots of.

It is very difficult for me to navigate. I know that we owe so much to the people who have been out and visible. It has made it easier for some of us to find the courage to be out too. Unfortunately, the general public has a distorted charicature of who "the Gays" are - and quite frankly, it scares the bejeezus out of some of them. Even worse, everytime there is a story about us on TV, the TV is quick to call central casting for this distorted charicature.

Fortunately, it is easy to overcome this by just being ourselves, living our lives, and being open to our coworkers, family, acquaintances.

What a vicious merry-go-round. My goodness. I do want to get off, I'm getting dizzy!