Ruling overturns trial court decision, says gay-marriage ban not relevant in case
LANSING, Michigan — Michigan courts can oversee a custody dispute between lesbian parents who adopted in Illinois even though Michigan doesn’t formally recognize gay relationships, the state Court of Appeals said Friday, Feb. 20.
The court ruled 2-1 that the U.S. Constitution requires state courts to recognize Diane Giancaspro and Lisa Congleton as adoptive parents. It reversed a trial judge who said Michigan’s 2004 voter-approved gay marriage ban kept her from enforcing the women’s parental rights.
"The only relevant consideration in this matter is each individual party’s established relationship as an adoptive parent with the children, not their relationship with each other," Judges Alton Davis and Stephen Borrello wrote.
Judge Kurtis Wilder dissented because he said Giancaspro didn’t show documents authenticating the Illinois adoption.
"My concern is the well-being of my children. I want them to live in a place where their rights are protected," Giancaspro said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the New York-based gay rights group Lambda Legal.
An attempt to reach Congleton was unsuccessful because her phone number was disconnected. The couple’s three children were living with Giancaspro, the ACLU said.
The couple adopted from China while living in Illinois, and the children began living with them in 2003. But the couple’s relationship ended in 2007 after they moved to southwestern Michigan.
Giancaspro sued for custody under Michigan law, but Congleton said the case should be dismissed because neither parent has rights since the state constitution doesn’t allow the recognition of domestic partnerships. The couple never married.
Berrien County Circuit Judge Mabel Johnson Mayfield ruled for Congleton in September 2007, recognizing the validity of the adoption. But the judge said Michigan’s amendment banning gay marriage kept her from enforcing either woman’s parental rights.
The appeals court disagreed with the trial judge and sent the case back to her for a child custody hearing.
The ruling Friday prompted American Family Association of Michigan President Gary Glenn to call for a ballot measure that would ban gay adoptions in the state.
"What’s best for any child is to have both a mother and a father who are married," Glenn said.
He said Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi and Utah have bans against gay adoptions.
The ACLU said it was thrilled with the appeals court’s decision.
"Today gay parents and their children can rest easier knowing that they again have access to Michigan courts," said Kary Moss, the Michigan executive director of ACLU.
Gay couples in Michigan were allowed to jointly adopt children in Washtenaw County but the practice stopped in 2002 after the county’s chief judge said such adoptions violated state law.