Categories: The Straight Line

Protecting Utah’s Families

When the legislature meets this year, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D-Salt Lake) is planning to reintroduce a bill she’s been running for the past five years. The bill, regarding co-parent adoption of a child, is very specific in its scope and intent.

  1. One of the parents must already have full legal custody of the child;
  2. The child must not have any other parents;
  3. The adoptive parent must live with the legal parent and the child in a family relationship, even though unmarried;
  4. The legal parent must consent.

The bill, very simply, allows for the parent of a child (if they are the only parent) to have his/her unmarried partner legally adopt the child in order to provide additional security and stability to the family unit. This only applies in cases in which there is not another parent in the child’s life, so it would not impact the rights of non-custodial parents.

Under current Utah law, unmarried cohabiting couples (regardless of gender identity or orientation) are not allowed to adopt children. This proscription also applies to situations in which one of the parents already has a child or children and wishes for the partner to adopt the child(ren). Chavez-Houck’s bill would remove the proscription in those cases, allowing the legal parent to decide if he/she wants his/her partner to adopt the child(ren).

Ultimately, this bill falls short of addressing the growing issues of legal inequality in our society. That being said, however, this isn’t an equality bill. It’s a bill designed to help protect families and children, especially in difficult times. Imagine a parent with a cohabiting partner. There is no other parent in the life of the child, but the cohabiting partner isn’t allowed to legally adopt the child. Then the worst happens, the legal parent is killed. These child is now a ward of the state, unless and until some other family member, who may or may not be familiar with the child, steps in to assume responsibility. Even if the legal parent had arranged for the partner to assume guardianship of the child, that doesn’t provide the same legal binding, rights, and responsibilities of legal adoption. In addition to losing a parent, the rest of this child’s family is now shattered and in a state of legal limbo.

As I sat with Chavez-Houck to discuss this bill, I could see the emotion in her face, hear the concern in her voice, for the plight of children and families in Utah. She asked me if I would be able to sleep at night if I was a single parent without the right to let my partner adopt my children, every day and every night carrying the worry of what would happen to my children and my family if something terrible were to befall me. I could see the fear people in that situation must feel reflected in her eyes.

Yet here we are, in a state that ostensibly values family, with a legislature that prides itself on supporting the rights of parents to make the important decisions regarding the welfare of their children, and Chavez-Houck has been pushing this bill for five years.

Do we, as a community, value our children? Do we want to protect them? Do we support strengthening families? Do we believe that ultimately it is the parents should be making the decisions about the welfare of their children? Yes, we do. As such, we must take this necessary step to ensure that our children and their family units are protected.

Once the bill is numbered, it will be submitted to the House Rules Committee for assignment. Most likely, it will be assigned to the Health and Human Services Committee, which will review the bill and vote on whether or not to forward to the full House for consideration. Given the current make-up of the HHS Committee, this bill is going to need widespread community support to move it forward. I encourage everyone to follow this bill and contact the members once it is assigned to committee.

This is a very simple issue, it’s about protecting children and families and ensuring that they are all treated fairly. As Chavez-Houck put it, “all Utah children and all Utah families should be treated equally. It’s all about fairness.”

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Bob Henline

Bob Henline is the Assistant Editor of QSalt Lake Magazine, as well as a columnist and social/political activist and amateur chef.

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