Rhode Island Must Take Another Step to Protect LGBTQ Families by Making Confirmatory Adoption More Accessible

As threats to LGBTQ+ people escalate across the country, Rhode Island legislators are considering a bill to provide vital protections for families            

March 31, 2023 (PROVIDENCE) — Yesterday the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony in support of S 0121, a bill that will streamline the process for confirmatory adoption and make it more accessible for LGBTQ+ parents to ensure security for their families through adoption. A companion bill, H 5226, was heard in the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month.

While Rhode Island has clear paths for LGBTQ+ parents to establish legal parentage under the Uniform Parentage Act, passed in 2020, confirmatory adoption is important for LGBTQ+ families and other families who want to confirm their parentage through an adoption decree. An adoption decree is a court judgment that ensures recognition of parentage in all states.

Threats to marriage equality raised in last June’s U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs ruling combined with escalating anti-LGBTQ+ bills and state court rulings around the country have increased the urgency of updating Rhode Island’s confirmatory adoption process to ensure LGBTQ+ families have access to all options for securing their child-parent relationships.

“Language in the Dobbs ruling inviting efforts to overturn marriage equality sparked fear for LGBTQ+ families last June. Since then, we have seen nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in states across the country. S 0121 is an opportunity for Rhode Island to show we are an inclusive state that cares about equality and security for our LGBTQ+ community and families.” said Senate lead sponsor Senator Dawn Euer. “Passing this bill will make it accessible for more Rhode Island parents to secure a confirmatory adoption. It is more important than ever for LGBTQ+ families to have access to the legal protections they want and need for their families.”

For parents seeking an adoption to confirm, rather than to establish, their parentage, S 0121 eliminates unnecessary requirements that aren’t appropriate for people who are already parents to their children and provides a streamlined path for such parents to petition a court for an adoption decree. Under current law, LGBTQ+ parents who wish to confirm parentage through adoption are forced to go through burdensome and unnecessary steps to adopt their own children, which can include an invasive home study or investigation, a minimum period of residency in the home, an in-person court hearing, and more. This leaves children and families vulnerable because these additional steps can delay the adoption process or make such an adoption entirely out-of-reach for some families because of cost. 

Language in the Supreme Court Dobbs ruling last June suggesting that the Court should reconsider the Obergefell marriage equality ruling in the future has created real fear for LGBTQ+ people that their marriages and families could be at risk. Recent court rulings in states including Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas, and Pennsylvania have in fact separated children from non-birth parents using justifications including outdated, gendered laws, or a lack of application of the marital presumption. An adoption decree provides security for children.

“Rhode Island has been a leader on transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual equality for decades and led on protections for LGBTQ+ families with the 2020 Uniform Parentage Act. Now, with escalating extremist attacks on LGBTQ+ people happening across the country, the state can lead again, said Polly Crozier, Director of Family Advocacy at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “Parents are more worried than ever about the safety of their children. S 0121 is one urgent and important way for Rhode Island to signal support for LGBTQ+ people, by removing barriers to adoption for LGBTQ+ people who seek to confirm their parentage and secure their children through an adoption decree wherever they travel or move outside Rhode Island.”

“I’m so proud of the work we did in 2020 to pass the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act which created paths for LGBTQ+ parents to secure their legal ties to their children under Rhode Island law,“ said lead sponsor of the House bill, Representative Rebecca Kislak. “I’m hearing from terrified Rhode Island parents who are looking at what is happening around the country with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation targeting young people and court rulings ripping children away from parents who planned for, raised, and love them. Now we need to take this next step to make sure every parent and child can have the security of adoption so they can feel secure if they happen to move or even just visit family in states like Florida or Oklahoma that don’t have the protections we have here.”

Parents and advocates submitted testimony in support of the Senate and House bills, including:

Beth Cronin, MD, Parent and Obstetrician/Gynecologist at a community health center:

“The 2022 Dobbs ruling has created real fear across the LGBTQ+ community for many reasons, but one of them is the security of our marriages and our families. Having access to adoption to secure our families is important when traveling throughout the country. Having to endure an invasive home study with a social worker interviewing us to determine if I am fit to parent these two children we have planned for, wished for, are now parenting, is offensive, disheartening, and unjust. To be forced to alert the sperm donor, who willingly and anonymously donated…without any intentions or expectations of parenting the child, via a newspaper posting that the adoption is planned, and then jump through additional hoops of court hearings will not only add cost, but will cost us emotional energy…This adoption process is expensive and most members of the LGBTQ+ community are spending several thousand dollars on legal fees. This is a cruel process and can be made much more humane and efficient if we enact this new legislation.”

Jordan Budd, Executive Director of COLAGE, a support and advocacy group for children of LGBTQ+ parents:
“All children, no matter who their parents happen to be, deserve to feel safe and secure in their families. People with LGBTQ+ parents are especially vulnerable right now with attacks on LGBTQ+ people and families making news across the country each and every day. Rhode Island LGBTQ+ families should not have to worry about crossing state lines for fear of their legal relationships coming into question.”

Kate Weldon LeBlanc, Executive Director of Resolve New England:
“S 0121 would eliminate unnecessary requirements and provide a streamlined path to petition a court for an adoption decree. It is unfair that non-birthing parents currently have to adopt their own children through a complicated, lengthy and expensive process. Also, the delay in confirming parentage leaves the children vulnerable.”

Courtney G. Joslin, parentage law expert and U.C. Davis Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law
“[E]ven if families are protected as a matter of Rhode Island law, they may experience discrimination as they travel about the country. Parties, including state officials, may argue and in some cases have argued that another state should not recognize a parent-child relationship involving a Rhode Island resident even where that relationship is recognized and protected as a matter of Rhode Island law.”

Shelbi D. Day, Chief Policy Officer of Family Equality:
“Currently, under Rhode Island law, parents must go through the traditional adoption process to obtain a court order confirming their legal relationship to their child even where Rhode Island law already recognizes them as parents. Doing so can be unduly burdensome, create economic hardship, and cause delay as it requires an invasive home study or investigation, a minimum period of residency in the home, and an in-person court hearing.”

S 0121 was introduced by Senators Euer, Murray, Mack, Pearson, Kallman, LaMountain, Lauria, McKenney, Acosta, and Miller.

H 5226 was introduced by Representatives Kislak, Shekarchi, McEntee, Kazarian, Edwards, Craven, Caldwell, Vella-Wilkinson, Batista, and Ajello.

A fact sheet with further information on the bill is available at www.glad.org