El Paso County votes down DP benefits

Unlike in Dallas County, commissioners were given a firm projected cost and actually took a vote. The El Paso Times reports:

County Judge Veronica Escobar brought up the issue of domestic partner benefits during a budget meeting on Tuesday.

After a discussion, Commissioners Dan Haggerty, Willie Gandara Jr. and Sergio Lewis voted against the measure, choosing not to look at providing health insurance benefits to unmarried couples of any gender. Escobar and commissioner Anna Perez supported the idea.

Escobar said it is in the best interest of the taxpayers to have as many people as possible covered with health insurance in the county. “The more people in our community who are uninsured, the more that it cost taxpayers to fund them,” she said.

Escobar said people with health insurance are more prone to receive preventive health care services than are uninsured people, who can’t afford to see a doctor and tend to use the emergency room at the University Medical Center. Taxpayers pay for services provided at the UMC emergency room, she said.

Analysts estimate it would cost the county almost $23,000 more a year to provide health insurance benefits to the partners of unmarried county workers.

—  John Wright

FAMILY LIFE: The adoption options

Sonyia Hartwell

For same-sex couples who want a family, CPS may be a more affordable route than private agency placements

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Adoption has become a common option for gay and lesbian couples that want to have a family. But there’s a lot to know before becoming an adoptive parent.

“In Texas, unmarried couples cannot adopt as a couple,” said Leslie Clay, chief development officer at Hope Cottage, the oldest non-sectarian adoption center in Dallas. But that applies equally to straight and gay couples.

Many couples have opted to go outside of Texas, especially when they are using a surrogate and they want the second parent to adopt and be added to the birth certificate.

But Texas does have laws that are favorable to the adoptive parents.

Texas law is silent on the issue of second-parent adoptions by same-sex couples, according to Jenny L. Womack, an adoption attorney in private practice.

“The only place Texas gets into it is on the birth certificate,” she said.

Texas only allows one man and one woman to appear on the birth certificate. An adopted child’s name, however, may reflect both parents’, and will normally be granted during the original single-parent adoption.

Traditionally, Dallas couples have traveled to San Antonio to get their second-parent adoption completed. Bexar County will allow an attorney to direct a case into a particular court and attorneys know exactly which judges will approve a second-parent adoption by same-sex parents.

But Womack said she has had luck recently in Dallas.

“When we had the Democratic sweep, it brought judges in who will do a second-parent adoption,” she said.

While she files adoptions by opposite-sex parents in juvenile court, Womack files same-sex-parent adoptions at the George Allen Courts Building and has been successful there.

Her advice to couples who want to adopt is to visit an adoption attorney first.

Hope Cottage Executive Director Sonyia Hartwell explained that there are two types of adoptions — private and through Child Protective Services.

Hope Cottage is located on McKinney Avenue in Uptown and welcomes same-sex couples. The minimum age for adoptive parents at that agency is 26 and same-sex couples must be in a stable relationship of at least two years.

Hartwell said that the mother placing her child in an adoptive home often participates in choosing the parents. She said CPS works well with same-sex couples.

Most adoptions are done through an agency. Private adoptions are legal in Texas but may not be arranged by individuals. Attorneys and doctors cannot act as adoption agents. Only licensed agencies may.

However, if a private adoption is arranged through a contact, the adopting parents are legally allowed to pay only medical, legal and counseling expenses. Rent, maternity clothes or grocery assistance may only be paid for through a licensed agency. Paying those expenses directly is classified as paying a fee for a child, and is a felony in Texas under laws that prevent baby selling.

Agencies may pay those expenses but are also prevented from helping a birth mother in some ways. The agency can pay rent or utilities but not a rent or utility deposit.

A home study is required by all agencies. CPS assigns its own caseworkers but a couple may choose anyone approved to do home studies. That includes a number of people in the LGBT community.

“I tell my clients to be open and honest and don’t freak out,” Womack said.

Hartwell said same-sex couples who successfully adopt are completely out about their relationship and who they are.

“You have to hold yourself out as a couple,” she said.

That means being out to family members and co-workers.

She said that couples that aren’t out won’t have the support of family, friends and co-workers necessary for successful adoptions.

Hartwell said that CPS adoptions are a good, lower-cost alternative to private adoptions.

She suggested couples should be as open-minded as possible.

Older couples aren’t likely to get infants. Younger couples who want infants and are adopting through CPS are more likely to get a placement if they’ll take an older sibling as well.

Hartwell said that the state doesn’t like to break up families.

Hartwell encouraged couples thinking of adopting to schedule an appointment to discuss the possibility. She said most will interview several agencies before settling on one.

An attorney is necessary to file the adoption by the first parent and later by the second.

CPS needs homes to place the thousands of children without parents in Texas.

Clay summed up what they’re looking for.

“We’re looking for good parents,” she said.

For referrals to adoption attorney across the country, visit AdoptionAttorneys.org.

—  John Wright

Ark. Supreme Court strikes down adoption ban

The Arkansas Supreme Court today upheld a lower court’s ruling striking down the state’s 2008 adoption ban as unconstitutional.

Act 1, which Arkansas voters approved by a margin of 57 percent three years ago, prohibited unmarried couples who live together, including same-sex couples, from adopting.

But in a decision published without dissent this morning, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the ban violates’ couples’ right to privacy.

“We hold that a fundamental right to privacy is at issue in this case and that, under the Arkansas Constitution, sexual co-habitors have the right to engage in private, consensual, noncommercial intimacy in the privacy of their homes,” the court wrote. “We further hold that this right is jeopardized by Act 1 which precludes all sexual cohabitors, without exception, from eligibility for parenthood, whether by means of adoption or foster care. …”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, today’s decision leaves only Mississippi and Utah that ban adoption for unmarried couples, including same-sex couples.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court has removed a discriminatory barrier for loving gay and lesbian couples who, child welfare experts agree, are equally able parents,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. “Too many children are in need of a loving home and the court has rightfully put their interests ahead of discrimination.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which organized the lawsuit challenging Act 1, is expected to hold a press conference later today.

Read the Supreme Court’s full opinion here.

—  John Wright

Eureka Springs adds DP benefits for city workers

(From Eureka Pride on Facebook)

Eureka Springs, Ark., long known as a gay tourist destination, has become the first city in the state to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees, according to a press release we received Monday:

EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. — The only city in Arkansas with a Domestic Partnership Registry today became the first city in the state to provide health care coverage for the domestic partners of municipal workers.

The city’s insurance provider, the Arkansas Municipal League, notified the city that beginning January 1, 2011 both same- and opposite-sex partners of city workers will have the same access to health insurance as legal spouses.

The announcement culminated a year-long campaign by residents of the Northwest Arkansas tourist town which in June 2007 became the first city in the state to enact a Domestic Partnership Registry ordinance to officially recognize unmarried couples in committed relationships.

“Once again, Eureka Springs is leading by example, this time in the realm of workplace equality,” said Michael Walsh, who helped lead the effort to expand health care coverage. “Marital status shouldn’t be the deciding factor in access to ‘family plan’ insurance. Legally wed or not, all city workers should get the same employment benefits, including access to health insurance for their partners.”

Expanding the definition of “family dependent” was “the right thing to do,” Eureka Springs Mayor Dani Joy wrote to the Municipal League in August, just weeks before the city council passed a resolution endorsing domestic partnership insurance coverage.

“I am aware as well as you that some will construe this as a ‘gay issue’,” said Joy. “But the reality is that there are many heterosexual couples who chose to live together in a committed relationship – as a family – without entering into the civil contract of marriage,. These folks face the same ‘family’ challenges every day, not the least of which is providing health care for themselves and for those who are dependent on them. . . . the definition of family is at the center of our concerns.”

Joy and city Transit Director Lamont Richie met with the Arkansas Municipal League Nov. 4 to lobby for a more inclusive health insurance policy.

Today’s announcement that their efforts were successful “is a huge step forward,” said Richie.

“And though only employees of the City of Eureka Springs will be able to take advantage of it for now,” he said, “other communities in the state may be encouraged to adopt their own Domestic Partnership Registries as a means of providing health insurance benefits to domestic partners of their employees.”

—  John Wright

Arkansas officials, right-wing group appeal judge’s ruling striking down gay adoption ban

Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The state Department of Human Services and a conservative group have appealed a judge’s ruling that struck down Arkansas’ voter-approved ban on unmarried couples serving as foster or adoptive parents.

The case is now before the Arkansas Supreme Court, after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled in April that the ban is unconstitutional. The high court set a Sept. 21 deadline for legal briefs in the case after the state and the Family Action Council Committee appealed the ruling.

Voters approved the ban in November 2008. It bars unmarried couples from fostering or adopting children, and effectively prohibits gays and lesbians from doing so because same-sex marriage is illegal in Arkansas.

The high court could hear oral arguments in the case as soon as this fall.

—  John Wright