More good news for lesbian and gay families in Montana arrived last week. (Sorry–I was slow to get to this.) Kellie Gibson and Denise Boettcher jointly adopted Morrgan Avery Gibson-Boettcher earlier in the month.
The linked story details how Morrgan came to be part of Gibson and Boettcher’s lives. Morrgan is Gibson’s grand-nephew. (Her sister is his grandmother.) Although the adoption was completed in November, Morrgan has lived with the two women for most of his life. Adopting him makes Gibson and Boettcher his “forever family.”
Like many states, Montana had previously permitted only one partner in an unmarried couple to adopt. But then came the Kulstad decision, which I discussed earlier this fall. Kulstad recognized legal rights in a lesbian non-legal mother–a woman whose had helped to raise a child that her partner had adopted.
That’s a situation that arises when only one of the partners is allowed to adopt. And it’s obviously much messier to deal with it after the fact, as the court had to in Kulstad. The uncertainty about whether one is a parent and what rights one might have and the need for litigation to answer those questions is generally quite undesirable.
That’s why Kulstad contributed to the willingness of a judge to approve this joint adoption. Kulstad suggests that both women would end up with legal rights anyway and it makes far more sense to clearly establish this in advance. Among other things, the adoption gives the family security and allows the two women to become Morrgan’s forever family.
Many adoption statutes are a bit vague about whether both members of an unmarried couple can adopt at the same time, or whether two people of the same sex can adopt jointly. (By contrast, some states specifically prohibit adoption by unmarried couples.) By demonstrating that is in the best interests of a specific child–here Morrgan–to have two people recognized as legal parents, prospective parents can persuade a judge the read the laws more generously.
For now, this seems to me to be an individual instance of judicial discretion. It’s not at all clear that this option will be offered generally to unmarried couples seeking to adopt. But that’s the way law often changes, case by case and child by child.