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New Jersey removes double standard in foster child adoptions

Holden and Galluccio with Adam
Adam, left, was jointly adopted by Holden, center, and Galluccio

State eases adoptions by gay, lesbian couples

December 17, 1997
Web posted at: 11:07 p.m. EST (0407 GMT)

NEWARK, New Jersey (CNN) -- Gay and lesbian couples, as well as unmarried heterosexual couples, will be able to jointly adopt children under state custody in New Jersey, under terms of a settlement reached Wednesday.

In settling a class-action lawsuit brought by a group of prospective gay and lesbian parents, the state Division of Youth and Family Services agreed to end its policy of barring joint adoption of children under its jurisdiction.

Previously in New Jersey, gay men, lesbians or unmarried heterosexuals could adopt a child that was a ward of the state. But if their partner wanted to also adopt the child, it required a second trip through court.

However, for married heterosexual couples, both parents could adopt the child at the same time, without a second court appearance.

"New Jersey is the first state in the country to agree to treat gay and unmarried couples the same as married couples," said Michael Adams, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

"This will be the policy of this state, and that makes it a very important legal development," Adams said.

Under terms of the settlement, the agency could still deny a gay couple the right to adopt a child. But it must judge them using the same standards that it applies to married couples, including "considerations such as the stability of the prospective adoptive couple's relationship," the settlement said.

The settlement only applies to children in state foster care, currently about 100 children. It does not apply to adoptions that occur outside the purview of the Division of Youth and Family Services.

The case arose when two gay men from Maywood, Jon Holden and Michael Galluccio, applied to jointly adopt their 2-year-old foster son, Adam, who they had cared for since he was 3 months old. His mother was a drug-addicted woman with the AIDS virus.

"We really wanted to be parents badly, and that desire to be parents overrode a lot of the problems, the risks, involved in adopting a sick child," Holden said.

But Holden and Galluccio were told by the family services agency that they could not adopt Adam together, only individually. A judge overrode that decision and approved the adoption in October.

Wednesday's agreement settled a related class-action suit brought by a group of 200 gay and lesbian couples. Holden and Galluccio were the lead plaintiffs.

"This is a victory about goodness and quality," Holden said at a news conference Wednesday, as Adam scurried in front of the television cameras.

For gays and lesbians in the United States, adopting children means navigating a mishmash of varying laws and regulations.

Only two states, New Hampshire and Florida, bar outright adoptions by gay men and lesbians. The rest of the states do allow adoptions on a case-by-case basis, and about half allow so called "second-parent" adoptions by gay and lesbian partners.

New Jersey is the first state in which the prohibition of "second-parent" joint adoptions has been challenged.

A conservative Republican lawmaker criticized the agreement.

Assemblywoman Mario Crecco, the prime sponsor of a bill banning same-sex marriages, says it is not fair for children to grow up without having both a mother and a father.

Correspondent Brian Jenkins contributed to this report.


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