This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The labor was surprisingly fast and calm for twins. Kelley Beeny watched in awe as her partner of a dozen years gave birth to two boys: Ben and Sam, weighing about 3 and 5 pounds respectively.
"It's unbelievable how you can love these little things so much," Beeny recalls. "Falling in love with somebody is totally different from falling in love with your children. … It changes who you are."
Her partner, Kaye Christensen, adopted Beeny's surname soon after the boys' birth. The twins, who were conceived with the help of a sperm donor, also share the name.
"They're the Beeny babies," Kelley quips.
Three-and-a-half years later, Kelley stays at home with the twins in Tooele while Kaye, 40, commutes to work in Salt Lake City. Kelley, 48, is the family's "domestic goddess," folding laundry, fixing meals and tidying the house. She listens to Ben spout his knowledge of train mechanics and sing Thomas the Tank Engine songs. She admires Sam's latest finger paintings.
Both boys call Kelley "Mommy."
But to the state of Utah, she is not their legal parent.
"It's infuriating," Kelley says. "I love my children just as much as anybody else. It's no different just because we're gay."
Utah is one of two states with statutes that block same-sex couples from adopting children. (The other is Mississippi.)
Salt Lake City Democrats Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck and Sen. Ross Romero hope to offer a remedy to families like the Beenys during the 2011 session of the Legislature, which begins Monday.
In 2000, Utah adopted a law that prohibits individuals who are living in unmarried, sexual relationships whether gay or straight from adopting or fostering children. Gay men and lesbians who live alone may adopt.
After pushing to change the policy in the previous three sessions without ever getting to a floor vote, Chavez-Houck has narrowed her scope to protecting families like the Beenys.
She and Romero hope to amend state law to allow second-parent adoptions enabling a first, legal parent to designate a co-parent. The change would allow unmarried couples to adopt children only in situations like the Beenys', in which one partner already is a legal or biological parent.
"There seems to be an understanding and a feeling [in Utah] that we should respect parents' rights whenever we can," Chavez-Houck says. "This is allowing parents to decide, 'This is a person I would like to co-parent with me.' It's good for children to have two parents whenever possible."
In Utah, nearly a third of cohabiting gay and lesbian couples are raising children. There are 2,900 children currently living in homes with two same-sex parents, according to a recent report by The Williams Institute, a sexual-orientation law center at the University of California Los Angeles.
Some of these couples may have adopted their children in other states. Others may have situations like the Beenys'. They may be gay men who hired a surrogate mother to bear a child who is one father's biological offspring. Or they could be raising children from one partner's previous heterosexual relationship.
Nonlegal parents like Kelley worry about not being able to make academic or medical decisions for their children if someone questions their status. They can't add their children to their employer-sponsored health insurance plans or claim income-tax deductions for dependents.
In the event of their death, their children would not receive Social Security survivor benefits. In the event of the legal parent's death, the nonlegal parent may not be able to obtain custody of the children if there is a dispute with other biological relatives.
Non-legal parents also do not have any rights to custody or visitation if they break up with their partners.
"That's a bummer not just for a partner who might not be able to see a child again, but also for the legal parent who might need child support," says Lauren Barros, a Salt Lake City family-law attorney. "Creating a legal, parent-child relationship provides stability and continuity [for the child]."
Last year, state courts in Florida and Arkansas overturned bans on gay adoption and unmarried-couple adoption, respectively, holding that such policies were unconstitutional. The Arkansas decision has been appealed to the state's supreme court.
In Utah, a new Salt Lake Tribune poll shows strong public support for employment and housing protections for gay and transgender individuals 65 percent but less backing for adoption rights for same-sex couples. When asked whether unmarried couples should be allowed to adopt if the biological parent consents or a child is in state custody, 39 percent of respondents were in favor and 53 percent were opposed.
That shows slight growth from the same poll a year ago, when 33 percent of Utahns favored unmarried-couple adoption. A comparison of the two polls shows virtually no movement among men, but support among women jumped from 37 percent in 2010 to 51 percent in 2011. Both polls surveyed 625 registered Utah voters at random and have a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Chavez-Houck thinks there is more support for second-parent adoptions by same-sex couples, based on some polling she has seen from Equality Utah.
Wallace Brice, a 70-year-old Blanding resident, says he did not endorse unmarried-couple adoption when polled by The Tribune. But he struggled with the question.
He would, however, support legalizing second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples, which he sees as a way to keep families together.
"Most of my life, I would have said, 'Absolutely not,' " Brice says. "But having seen married couples that do such a poor job and having observed a couple of same-sex couples providing very good homes for very unfortunate children, it's definitely tempered my redneck attitude."
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, predicts Utah legislators are not going to "sit back and let somebody come in and gut" the adoption law. She worries that allowing second-parent adoptions would allow gay couples to circumvent the law entirely. If a gay person lives alone for a period and adopts a child as a single parent, then he or she could later move in with a partner and petition for a second-parent adoption, she says.
"It's an absolute gimmick to get around the law to once again create homosexual adoption," Ruzicka says. "That's just wrong."
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, helped to write and pass the current law. He says concerns that nonlegal parents have can be addressed through wills, medical directives and guardianship contracts. And since nonadoptive parents do not have a claim to children in the break-up of an unmarried relationship, that is "simpler" for the children, he says.
"Certainty on the part of the child was more important to us than trying to say, well, we need to recognize this unmarried person's rights to the child," Valentine says. "I haven't seen any new data or new arguments on it to say that is a policy choice that should be changed."
He says the law was not directed exclusively at same-sex couples. It also applies to unmarried heterosexual couples.
But unmarried heterosexual couples can marry to gain adoption rights. Utah reinforced its ban on gay marriage with a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2003.
Kelley and Kaye Beeny have considered moving out of state to secure a second-parent adoption. But both their parents, the twins' doting grandparents, live in Utah and they worry about the financial toll of a temporary move.
Each day, Kelley and Kaye are just busy raising twins, wondering what they used to do with their time before they were moms.
"Three-and-a-half is a really funny age. We are laughing all the time," Kaye says. "Even though we struggle with the laws of the state, and we worry every day, 'what if, what if,' the positives outweigh the negatives so much in our life. It's just amazing."
By the numbers Census snapshot of gay and lesbian families in Utah
Same-sex couples living together • 3,861 (58 percent are women; 42 percent are men)
Portion of those couples with children • 30 percent
Children living in same-sex couple households • 2,900
Among same-sex couples with children, average number of kids at home • 2.5
Among married couples withkids, average number of kids at home • 2.3
Portion of same-sex parents with a stay-at-home parent • 20 percent
Portion of married-couple families with a stay-at-home parent • 43 percent
Source • The Williams Institute