Gay couples contes Oklahoma's new adoption law

Thursday, September 16th 2004, 5:45 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Three homosexual couples filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, seeking to overturn an Oklahoma law that prohibits the state from recognizing adoptions by same-sex couples from other states and countries.

Sixteen state representatives and one senator wrote the law, which Gov. Brad Henry signed in May, in response to an opinion issued by Attorney General Drew Edmondson a month earlier. The opinion required the state to recognize all adoptions, regardless of the gender of parents.

A gay couple from Washington state, Ed Swaya and Greg Hampel, sought the opinion when they asked for a birth certificate listing both of them as their daughter's parents. The state Health Department had initially refused to list Swaya because he was not the birth mother.

The couple adopted 2-year-old Vivian Nicole Hampel-Swaya from an Oklahoma woman. Now they fear they would lose their legal rights as parents if they visited the birth mother.

Swaya and Hampel are two of 10 plaintiffs _ including the couples' children _ in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City.

The lawsuit alleges the amendment to the Oklahoma Adoption Code ``appears to sever legal ties between parents and their children whenever families led by same-gender couples enter the state of Oklahoma.''

This ``could have the potential to devastate loving, stable families'' by denying parents the ability to make routine health care decisions for their children, enroll them in school or provide them health insurance, the lawsuit alleges.

Henry's spokesman, Paul Sund, said the governor's office, listed as a defendant, had not reviewed the lawsuit and would not comment on the pending litigation.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Drew Edmondson, also a defendant, said the office had not been served the lawsuit and, therefore, could not comment on it.

Rep. Thad Balkman, R-Norman, an author of the law, said the majority of Oklahomans do not want gay couples to have adoptive children.

``Children are best raised in a mother-father relationship,'' he said. ``There's only certain things that a father can teach a child. It goes the same way with moms.''

Balkman believes gay couples could avoid losing their rights to their children under the law through legal planning, such as designating power of attorney.

``What if one of these parents passes away, and the state may or may not recognize this adoption?'' asked Brian Chase, attorney for the plaintiffs. Chase is the Dallas-based attorney for Lambda Legal, a civil rights advocacy group.

``Unfortunately, the law is so badly written and so broad, I have no idea what it does.''

Anne Magro, a plaintiff, rallied against the legislation before it became law. Magro gave birth to twin girls six years ago in New Jersey. In 2000, Magro's partner of 13 years, Heather Finstuen, became the girls' second parent through adoption. That year, the family moved to Oklahoma.

Magro worried about leaving her diverse community in New Jersey, but her fears were assuaged when the family settled into Norman.

``That's been the best thing about living in Oklahoma _ finding people are so much more accepting than we expected,'' she said.

Community members see Magro and Finstuen coaching their girls' soccer and T-ball teams and leading their Girl Scouts troop, and they realize the couple want the same ideals for their children as heterosexual parents, Magro said.

``We want to protect them and their future.''