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Adoption bills begin trek through Utah Legislature

Published February 5, 2013 7:38 am

HB214 • Aims to let those in unmarried or same-sex relationships adopt a partner's child.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For the sixth year, a lawmaker is running a bill that would allow Utahns in unmarried and same-sex relationships to adopt a partner's child.

In past sessions, the legislation got roundly snubbed. But Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, and sponsor of HB214, is undaunted.

"As long as all Utah families are not being treated equitably, I intend to run the bill," Chavez-Houck said Monday. "I believe that it provides an opportunity for families in our community to talk about the challenges they face in not having peace of mind. To me, this has always been an issue of parental rights. A parent should determine who they would like to co-parent with, period. If a home and family constellation is found to be nurturing and safe for a child, that child should stay with that family."

HB214 would allow a cohabiting partner to adopt in cases where a child has only one legal parent and that parent supports the adoption. The adoptive parent would have to show he or she had parental relationship with the child and provided emotional and financial support.

"We have a number of new legislators who haven't had a chance to meet or visit with families, including grandparents, extended relatives, and friends, who would like to tell them their stories," Chavez-Houck said. "In continuing to run the bill, I provide those families a chance to talk about their challenges."

Utah adopted a ban on same-sex couple adoptions in 2000. In 2011, the Williams Institute at UCLA, using Census data from 2005-2009, estimated about 24 percent of Utah's same-sex couples are raising children together.

Utah is one of just two states — the other is Mississippi — that outright bar gays and lesbians from adopting a partner's child, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In Michigan, state courts have ruled unmarried couples may not jointly petition to adopt; courts in three other states have ruled against second-parent adoptions.

Same-sex couples may jointly petition to adopt from biological parents or the state in 16 states and the District of Columbia; same-sex couples also have successfully petitioned for that right in Minnesota. Second-parent adoptions are an option in 10 states, and couples have successfully petitioned for that right in 16 other states.

Other adoption-related bills already moving in the Legislature:

— SB31 would provide a $1,000 refundable tax credit for families who adopt children with special needs who are between the ages of 5 and 18. It would apply to adoptions that took place on or after Jan. 1, 2013 and may be claimed in the year the adoption became final. A fiscal note attached to the bill, which the Senate has passed, estimates it would cost the state's education fund $350,000 annually.

— SB155 would create parameters for the widely accepted practice of open adoption. It requires such agreements to be approved by a court to be legally enforceable and states that a violation of an agreement is not grounds to set an adoption aside. The Senate Judiciary committee will consider the bill Tuesday.

brooke@sltrib.com