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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kimberly, left, and Amber Leary play "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" with their 15-month-old daughter Thursday, February 27 at their home. They are among an unknown number of gay couples in Utah whose efforts to pursue second-parent adoptions have been thwarted by a stay of a court decision overturning the same-sex marriage ban and intervention by the Utah Attorney General's Office.
Same-sex couples say state is interfering with adoptions
Rulings on hold » A.G. office says courts can’t proceed on the issue until the constitutionality of Amendment 3 is resolved.
First Published Feb 28 2014 04:49 pm • Last Updated Mar 01 2014 04:21 pm

When Amber and Kimberly Leary first met, the attraction was instant.

But Amber wanted to make one thing clear before they began dating: she wanted to be a mom someday and was looking for a partner who also wanted a family — which, as it turned out, was a priority for Kimberly, too.

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That was more than six years ago. Today, the women are mothers to a 15-month-old girl, but only Amber, the biological mother, is their child’s legal parent. They moved quickly to resolve that conundrum by marrying within hours of it becoming legal in Utah on Dec. 20. Days later they filed an adoption petition to add Kimberly as a second parent.

"We’re thinking we’re clear sailing here," Kimberly recalled.

"Merry Christmas to us," adds Amber.

"That’s exactly what we were thinking," Kimberly said. "This is the best year ever."

But on Jan. 10 the 3rd District Court judge handling their petition required that the Utah attorney general’s office be notified of the case and given 45 days to respond. On Monday, the Utah attorney general’s office filed an opinion that says, since the decision overturning Amendment 3 has been stayed, the court cannot proceed with the Leary’s petition until the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban is resolved.

The news devastated the Learys.

"We were supposed to be adopting," said Amber Leary, 31. "It was supposed to be A plus B equals C and then we were just done with it. ... This is about the well-being of our daughter, that’s the bottom line, and to make sure that Kimberly has every right, just as I have every right to her, and she feels safe. It’s frustrating."

They are not the only couple objecting to the state’s intervention in their second-parent adoptions. On Friday, several couples and attorneys shared their stories during a press conference at the Capitol and called on the state to withdraw their opposition to the adoptions.

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"Our clients are dismayed and hurt by the state’s position," said attorney Laura Milliken Gray. She said that despite the state’s claim that its primary concern is protecting children, it has interjected itself in a highly private and personal matter to the detriment of same-sex families.

"These children deserve justice and protections now," Gray said, urging the state to "allow these kids to have the rights and protections that come only when their parents can both adopt them."

Cindy Sanders, a senior development manager at Adobe, said her wife was home taking care of their napping son "while I fight for him."

Sanders said she and her wife, who married after Shelby’s ruling, heavily researched "what it would mean to bring a child into a family like ours that is not the traditional Utah family in a state that cares about families" and found there wasn’t any "justifiable evidence" to show their son would be harmed by growing up with two moms. They’ve taken extra steps to ensure he has godparents and relatives ready to fill in any parenting gaps.

"The most important thing to me is my son," said Sanders, adding that she wants to be able to provide for him as a parent in every way. "Love me or hate me, do what you will based off my decisions. But the reality is my son is here. ... Please do not hurt my son."

Leslie Neebling said it’s offensive that she and her wife Charlotte Kornick have to go through what are termed "stepparent" adoptions.

"We’re their parents," Neebling said of their children. "We went from the point of dreaming about what [our] family might look like to every step of the way trying to bring our family together in a legal sense."

"To grant us the simple right to be able to take care of our families seems very basic to me," she said.

Attorney Shane A. Marx, who represents the Learys, said he has four other adoption cases pending and has heard of as many as two dozen more being handled by attorneys he knows. The issue also is being raised by one couple in a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the law firm Strindberg & Scholnick.

State judges have had varying responses to the adoption petitions. Some have not set hearings, letting the petitions languish; some issued stays on their own. Uncertainty led other judges to ask for an opinion from the Utah attorney general’s office. A few adoptions apparently were completed before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on Jan. 6.

The Utah attorney general’s office provided a generic copy of the opinion it is filing in the cases to The Salt Lake Tribune. The opinion cites the state law that bars adults who live together from adopting a child and asks that the adoption be put on hold until an appeal of Shelby’s decision is resolved — which could take up to two years, if the case proceeds as expected to the U.S. Supreme Court. The couples also have the right to ask that their adoption cases be dismissed and then refile them, the state said.

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