ACLU Joins Children's Advocacy Group in Fighting Utah's Biased, Restrictive Adoption Policy

Affiliate: ACLU of Utah
November 30, 1999 12:00 am

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SALT LAKE CITY — Acting on behalf of three potential adoptive parents, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights today sought to join a legal challenge to a state policy designed to bar gay, lesbian and unmarried heterosexual couples from adopting needy children.

In a legal complaint filed this morning, potential adoptive parents Steven Lazarus and his partner Mike Splitt, together with Colleen Sandor, asked the court for permission to join in the lawsuit brought earlier this month by Utah Children, a local advocacy group fighting the policy on behalf of the state’s foster children in need of loving homes.

The ACLU and NCLR are representing the three adults who, under the new policy, are barred from adopting because they live with an unrelated adult. Defendants in the case are the Utah Division of Children and Family Services, its Board, and several named officials within the Department of Human Services.

“Utah’s adoption policy is grounded in irrational fear and prejudice toward same-sex and unmarried couples,” said Stephen C. Clark, an attorney with the ACLU of Utah and a litigator in the case. “This policy robs children of the chance to live in stable, loving homes and robs prospective parents of the chance to provide for a needy child.”

The policy prevents gay couples and heterosexual adults with roommates from adopting. It states that “adults present in the home [must be] legally related to parents by blood or adoption or legal marriage.”

In legal papers filed with the court, the ACLU and NCLR said that the discriminatory adoption policy violates the adults’ constitutional rights to equal protection and argued that the policy itself is invalid because DCFS does not have the legal authority to pass it. The groups also said that the state ignores and violates its own law, which authorizes adoption based on “the best interest of the child.”

“Steve and Mike, or Colleen and her partner, could provide all the stability, warmth and care that every child in Utah deserves,” said Jennifer Middleton, an attorney with the national ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project who is also litigating the case. “But instead, they are irrationally barred from even being considered as parents.”

“This policy is bad for children, but it’s also unfair to the parents out there who want to adopt,” she said.

The individuals challenging the policy are:

  • Steven Lazarus, 36, and his partner of 12 years, Mike Splitt, 35. Both are meteorologists at the University of Utah. The pair spent last five years mentoring a troubled youth in Oklahoma and currently participate in a youth mentoring program sponsored by the Salt Lake City Homeless Shelter. In 1993, they were unofficially wed in a synagogue by a reform Jewish rabbi. They hope to be able to start a family and would like the option to adopt.
  • Colleen Sandor, 35, is a licensed psychologist in Salt Lake City and has been in a committed lesbian relationship for the past eight years. She is the program coordinator for an adult substance abuse treatment team that places special emphasis on treating mothers and children who have been affected by substance abuse issues. She too hopes to be able to start a family and would like the option to adopt.

While Florida remains the only state with a law that expressly bars lesbians and gay men from ever adopting children, Arkansas passed a policy last year prohibiting lesbians, gay men, and those who live with them from serving as foster parents. Both the Florida law and the Arkansas policy are currently being challenged in court by the ACLU. However this past April, New Hampshire repealed a 12-year-old law banning gays and lesbians from foster or adoptive parenting.

The case is Utah Children v. Utah DCFS, et al. Attorneys representing the adult clients are Clark of the ACLU of Utah, Middleton of the national ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, cooperating attorney Laura Milliken Gray of Salt Lake City, and Kathryn D. Kendell and Shannon Minter from the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

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