Colorado lawmakers want to make it easier for same-sex parents to adopt their own kids

About two and a half years ago, Jen Snook and Lisa Dacey wanted to add a fourth to their burgeoning Boulder family.

The married couple had already given birth to a daughter in California in 2017. They conceived with artificial insemination and Snook carried their daughter. The couple paid a $20 adoption fee to make sure all 50 states recognized Dacey as their daughter’s parent, as well.

It was “insulting and frustrating” that they needed to go through an adoption for their own daughter, but at least it was relatively straightforward, Snook said.

They figured it’d be about the same in Colorado when Dacey was pregnant with their son, through in vitro fertilization, a couple of years later. Instead, they faced months of costly legal procedures that included fingerprinting and background checks — all for a judge to deny Snook’s application to adopt her own child, they said.

The reasoning, as the couple explains it: Because they were married when Dacey had their son, the state of Colorado presumes Snook to be the second parent, and how could a parent adopt their own child?

The result is a Catch 22 where other states may not recognize Snook as their son’s parent, but because their home state does, they can’t pursue stronger — and nationwide — legal protections.

The decision was “devastating,” Snook said. Dacey said it underscored how vulnerable their family is, despite the progress made for LGBTQ rights over the past decade.

“It was the first time that the differences in our family structure were so stark,” Dacey said. “We have been fortunate in that Jen and I got married a week after the Supreme Court decisions of 2015 (that legalized same-sex marriage), and we were in California where this wasn’t as much of an issue. Throughout our whole life we were able to benefit from all the progress on family equality issues. This was the first time where that wasn’t in place, so it kind of hit me. ‘Oh, I guess we’re not as equal as I thought we were.’”

Proposed Colorado law would streamline adoption for children born through assisted reproduction

The issue isn’t unique to same-sex couples, and can affect any family that has kids through assisted reproduction, such as in vitro fertilization. And while it could be “catastrophic” for families that are caught in the legal paradoxes of it, as Colorado House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, put it, it hadn’t garnered much attention at the policy making level until recently — when Esgar and her wife, Heather Palm, encountered it first hand.

Esgar carried their daughter, though she was conceived with Palm’s genetic material. Which, in the eyes of the law, meant Palm would need to go through a step-parent adoption for her own flesh-and-blood.

“I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” Esgar said of her initial reaction. Then, she was floored by the implications for legal protections for their family.

Esgar, however, is in a place where she could act. Near the beginning of the legislative session, she introduced House Bill 1153, which is aimed at streamlining the adoption process for parents of children born through assisted reproduction. It passed the House at the end of February on a bipartisan vote. It is scheduled for its first hearing in the Senate on Wednesday.

“Should something happen to me, and we have not completed this adoption process, Heather would have to fight to keep our child, ” Esgar said from the floor of the House of Representatives shortly before the vote. “That is not fair, that is not equitable.”

It’s an imperfect measure, Esgar said — parents are still adopting their own kids in order to have full 50-state protections, after all — but necessary for families like hers. It’s up to Congress to address proactive parental affirmation, she said.

Meanwhile, Snook and Dacey said they’re avoiding family vacations to some states they see as less LGBTQ friendly and less likely to recognize their parentage without a formal adoption.

It doesn’t affect Snook’s relationship with her son, though she does have that nagging lack of security in the back of her mind, she said. Dacey just looks forward to “relief and closure” if the law passes and they can button up the legal side of relationships they feel in their hearts.

“A celebration and acknowledgment of everything being official and protected,” she said of formal adoption plans. “That’s what it’s all about. We don’t anticipate it changing anything on a day-to-day basis. You do these things so protections are in place when unexpected things happen. Formalizing all of this through adoption, it makes one less thing to worry about.”

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