Same-sex adoption in Wisconsin

Marie Straquadine

While the most visible debate related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights is currently the topic of same-sex marriage, same-sex couples face many types of institutionalized discrimination. Same-sex adoption is an extremely important issue to many LGBT couples. In Wisconsin and many other states, it is difficult or impossible for same-sex couples to adopt children together.
Under Wisconsin law, joint adoption by a same-sex couple is not legal. It is possible for one of the parents in a same sex couple to adopt a child and for the other parent to become a legal guardian. The legal guardian can then try to adopt, but whether or not this is possible varies by case.
This is a problem because same-sex couples trying to adopt are not guaranteed the same rights as straight couples or single people, and they have to go through a much more difficult adoption process.
While the difference between the title of parent and that of legal guardian may seem to be a difference in name only, it carries with it some important consequences. Legal guardians do not have as many rights as parents.
For example, if adoptive same-sex parents separate or the child’s legal parent dies, it is possible that the legal guardian will lose visitation rights or that the child will be placed in foster care.
On the other hand, if the legal guardian dies, the child will not receive social security benefits. Clearly, the legal guardian and his or her child are put at a disadvantage because of the parents’ sexual orientation. And even if legal guardians had the same exact rights as adoptive parents, the difference in terminology creates a hierarchy that places legal guardians on a lower level.
Part of the reason same-sex couples cannot jointly adopt in the state of Wisconsin is because they cannot be legally married. Wisconsin does not allow unmarried couples to adopt, and according to Wisconsin law, all same-sex couples are unmarried.
In July 2009, Wisconsin began recognizing domestic partnerships, but these only offer some of the rights available to married couples. As a result, same-sex couples wishing to adopt are being penalized because gay marriage is not legal in Wisconsin.
The ambiguity and unfairness of Wisconsin adoption law is not logical. If a single parent – regardless of his or her sexual orientation – is legally able to adopt a child, why shouldn’t a same-sex couple be allowed to adopt together?
There is no bias in the law against single parents and their ability to raise a child, but, for some reason, the parenting abilities of same-sex couples are doubted. This discriminatory practice is insulting to LGBT individuals.
What do the opponents of same sex adoption argue? Some believe that same-sex parents will somehow “turn their child gay” in the way they raise them. This is a strange argument, since most people who identify as gay were raised by straight parents or by one straight parent.
Other opponents think same-sex parents are a problem because their children will not have a role model of the other sex, and that this will negatively affect the child’s development. According to this argument, it is also impossible for children to be raised effectively by a single parent, and the only people children ever interact with are their parents. This is not the case.
Chances are some same-sex couples in Wisconsin are currently interested in adopting children. Why should their sexual orientation play a role in the adoption process? Adoption laws in Wisconsin – and other states with discriminatory laws – should be changed in order to make the process of adoption the same for same-sex and straight couples.