SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker has re-introduced a bill that would allow Utahns in unmarried relationships the right to adopt a partner's child.
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, has re-introduced HB214, which would amend the state's adoption laws to allow for any unmarried adult to adopt a child if it is in the best interest of the child to have a legal parent-child relationship with both adults or to allow the "adoption of the parent's child by the other cohabiting adult."
"Adoption and parenting is about creating loving, stable homes for kids and about making sure that children have the nurturing environment that allows them to thrive and succeed," Chavez-Houck said. "And I think all of us in this community believe in that."
Chavez-Houck said the bill is intended to be a protection for families who have no legal right to children if something happens to the legal parent.
"I think this helps shed light that not all parents have the same right as other parents and that there are families that have a lot of stress because they don't know what the next day might look like because something might happen to one of the parents," she said.
"I know that I can go to bed at night, that if something should happen to me — if I pass away during the night or I get hit by a bus or something like that — that my children will have their father there; they will have somebody that they've known all their life and they love, that loves them, that they've seen as their caretaker all their life," Chavez-Houck added. "And there are parents in Utah that don't have that piece of mind."
Adoption and parenting is about creating loving, stable homes for kids and about making sure that children have the nurturing environment that allows them to thrive and succeed. And I think all of us in this community believe in that.
–Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck
Under the proposed bill, an unmarried adult may join in a petition with the legal parent to adopt the child if the person has "developed a parental relationship with the child, has contributed to the child's emotional or financial well-being" and "is in the best interest of the child."
Current state law says the state should do what is in the best interest for the children, but that it is "not in a child's best interest to be adopted by a person or persons who are cohabiting in a relationship that is not a legally valid and binding marriage under the laws of this state."
Chavez-Houck said the bill also provides a protection to the child who has to go through the "trauma that goes with having lost a parent and then to have that amplified by the fact that they might not be able to stay with the parent that they know.
"As long as they're providing a safe, nurturing home for the children, I don't believe they love their children any less than I love my children," Chavez-Houck added. "When people understand that this is a person that's deciding what's in the best interest of their child, I think that that pushes people to understanding and appreciating that people should stay with parents. And I think people understand that."
While gay couples would also benefit from the amended adoption laws, any unmarried adult, including grandparents, would be given the legal right to adopt. However, the bill would not change current state laws that prohibit an unmarried couple from adopting a child that is not one of the adult's legal children.
"I believe they should be afforded that equity in the community," Chavez-Houck said. "The more that people understand and get to know these families, and know that they really are trying to operate in the best interest of their children, then they will start to be more inclined to support second parenting adoption.
"I'm hoping to have a conversation with people who believe in parental rights about this issue, and hopefully they can appreciate the parental rights that should be deserved by these families, too."
Chavez-Houck admits it will be a tough battle to get her bill passed by the legislature, but hopes people will have conversations with their legislators to discuss the issue.
"I just think that it takes diligence and the continued commitment that we have from our families that want to be treated the same," she said. "I think that we'll start to see a change."
Similar bills from Chavez-Houck have been presented before the legislature, but have not made it past the house committee.
"I just want to be able to shed some light on that and make sure these families have an opportunity to share their stories and to talk about the things that are happening in their lives and how much they care and love their children," she said.