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Salt Lake City lawyers say AG’s same-sex adoption-blocking move may have wider societal implications

April 23, 2014

ast week the Utah Attorney General’s office filed petitions to block same-sex adoption proceedings when two 3rd District Court Judges approved adoptions from couples who received marriage licenses in Utah when same-sex marriage was briefly legal late last year. These judges, in keeping with the law on the books, ordered the Utah Health Department to provide updated birth certificates for the adopted children, the Deseret News reports. The legality around same-sex legal rights and privileges has fluctuated so rapidly in the last few months that only Salt Lake City lawyers with just the right timing could have slipped through these windows of opportunity, but now there are more hurdles to face.

Whether these issues are about expanding the civil rights of valuable, equal and needed members of our society, or whether they reflect an effort to defend and uphold the traditions and institutions that comprise the fabric of our nation, kind of depends on what side of the fence you land. But regardless of whether individual opinions finds same-sex issues to be a moral crusade or a battle for human rights, now it’s the Salt Lake City lawyers who are determining the codification in law of the privileges, rights, and responsibilities of citizens on both sides of the same-sex fence. And Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has set up his camp defending traditional institutions of marriage—and that apparently includes kids.

Seeing something on state-issued documents, like marriage licenses or birth certificates, does have a ring of finality and a seeming stamp of state approval, which may be part of why Reyes’ office has struck down the issuance of these amended birth certificates containing the names of same-sex couples as parents. These adoptions, Reyes argues, “would essentially recognize same-sex marriage, which has not been permissible under Utah law.” Citing Amendment 3’s democratic origins, Reyes contends that marriage is defined as between a man and woman.

What Reyes might not realize, Salt Lake City lawyers point out, is that Reyes’ moves also subtly defines parenthood as acceptable only within a heterosexual, legally sanctioned partnership. Despite the social validity and acceptability bestowed on all kinds of families—widowed and orphaned families, divorced families, blended families and those within which guardianship resides with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other kinship relations, not to mention single parent households—Reyes’ attempts to systematically define the rights of families by denying some kinds of families rights and privileges. This, by extension, undermines and erodes the legitimacy of other kinds of families.

To many Salt Lake City lawyers, and indeed much of the general public in Utah, same-sex marriage and/or adoption is a narrowly confined issue. But when the battleground over the values becomes entrenched in strategic legal maneuvers, unintended casualties occur. The Department of Health intends to appeal Reyes’ order, with hopes to be able to issue the court-ordered birth certificates. The Attorney General’s office intends to keep blocking them through petitions,  all while waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on whether Utah has the right to set up these definitions in the first place. And now, as adoptions take center stage, the front line in this battle has become comprised of our children.

 

 

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