RI Senate Advances Bill to Make Confirmatory Adoption More Accessible for LGBTQ+ Families

As threats to LGBTQ+ people escalate across the country, the Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill to provide vital protections for families in Rhode Island

Today the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to recommend 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. The bill will now advance to a floor vote in the Senate, where it is expected to pass. A companion bill, H 5226, is under consideration in the House Judiciary Committee.

While Rhode Island is a leader in protections for LGBTQ+ families and has clear paths to establish legal parentage under the Uniform Parentage Act, passed in 2020, confirmatory adoption is an important next step  – particularly given the startling increase in attacks nationwide on LGBTQ+ people.  Many Rhode Islanders seek an adoption decree as additional security — it is a court judgment that ensures recognition of parentage in all states. S 0121 ensures that LGBTQ+ parents – who are already legal parents under Rhode Island law – can easily access an adoption decree to provide that additional security for their children to protect them from bias and discrimination across the country.

“Given the current climate of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the country, it is more important than ever for LGBTQ+ families to have access to the legal protections they want and need for their families,” said lead sponsor Senator Dawn Euer. “I’m grateful that my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee were motivated to move quickly to advance this priority bill, which will make it accessible for more Rhode Island parents to secure a confirmatory adoption. Rhode Island is an inclusive state that cares about equality and security for our LGBTQ+ community – including their children — and today’s action on S 0121 is proof of that. I look forward to the vote on the Senate floor.”

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. 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.

“I’m thankful to Senator Euer and to the members of the Judiciary Committee for seeing the urgency and importance of advancing this bill to protect children and families,” said Polly Crozier, Director of Family Advocacy at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “With extremists escalating their attacks on LGBTQ+ people across the country, parents are more worried than ever about the safety of their children. An adoption decree provides additional security for children, particularly if families travel or move outside Rhode Island. S 0121 will remove needless barriers to adoption for LGBTQ+ people who seek to confirm their parentage.”

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.

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.

Learn more: Fact sheet