On Wednesday, I officially adopted Ira. Since we live in Massachusetts and are married, I have actually been a legal parent to Ira since his birth. We opted to go through a second-parent adoption process in order to provide me with legal protections outside of the state of Massachusetts. Because many states (as well as the federal government) do not recognize our marriage, they also may not recognize my legal claim to Ira in the absence of an adoption. This adoption protects me in case Lyn and I should ever break up. Without the adoption in hand, Lyn could choose to move to another state and fairly easily shut me out of Ira's life. Three years ago, Lyn similarly adopted Leigh. (Actually, as an interested aside, in reality we both adopted Ira on Wednesday -- that's how it works any time you do a step-parent or second-parent adoption. Of course that is really a legal fiction and we all know that I was the only parent whose status was really in question.)
Not all lesbian couples in Massachusetts do a second parent adoption. We know couples who have opted against it because of the substantial expense, deciding to rely on their status as a married couple for protection. We know of one couple who did the adoption but were very angry that they had to. Lyn and I haven't ever felt angry about jumping through the legal hoops (although I wouldn't mind it if the lawyer gave us back that fat stack of cash). So I wanted to say something about why we have chosen this route.
It comes down to something the judge said just before she signed our papers. "This adoption is a permanent decree. When this paper is signed and registered with the court it is permanent and irrevocable." Those words struck me very deeply, and I turned them over and over in my head for the rest of the day. At the end of the day I found that the word "irrevocable" had really impacted Lyn as well. It is the revocability of the relationship between a child and his non-biological mother that gets at the heart of the difficulty in establishing and maintaining a lesbian-headed family with two moms.
Without legal protections, a bio-mom can revoke the parenthood of a non-bio-mom any time she chooses. Non-biological mothers in most states don't have legal protections which leads to mothers losing their children and children losing their mothers. If I knew that Lyn could take Ira away from me it would change our whole relationship. It would change my relationship with Ira, setting up Lyn as the mediator of our relationship, even if neither of us intended that to be the case. That's what makes that word, irrevocable, mean so much. It normalizes my relationship with both Lyn and Ira. It means that my community cares enough about my family to invest each of our relationships with Ira with equal importance.
Too often, we don't take lesbian parenting relationships seriously enough. In most places lesbians are not allowed to marry; our relationships are not taken seriously by the larger community. In our hearts, too many of us believe that our relationships really are second rate and that the bio-mom is really is the "real" mom. I feel so blessed that the state has imbued my marriage with legal backing and my parenthood with serious and irrevocable status. It makes my marriage and my family stronger.