And yet even though the number of states allowing gays to adopt a baby has nearly tripled over six years, for many same sex couples hopeful adoptive couples such as Matthew and Trey there’s still a long way to go.
I recently I caught up with the Tennessee couple to find out about their open adoption journey so far and to get their thoughts about how the landscape is shifting for gay and same sex couples hoping to adopt a child.
How would you describe your adoption journey so far?
The journey has been very enlightening and exciting to this point. It also has been a lot of work. In the very beginning of our relationship we knew we wanted to be fathers. We set certain life goals to accomplish before we started the process. We also had to decide which route we wanted to take to become parents. Our choice was adoption.
In August 2012, we began researching various types of adoptions. We quickly learned the obstacles we would face in our adoption journey as a same-sex couple. Since our state doesn’t recognize a gay couple with marriage, civil unions or a domestic partnership, we knew we would face extra hurdles to becoming parents.
Since our relationship isn’t recognized by our state, one of us would have to become the parent first and then the other would become a parent through a second-parent adoption a minimum of six months later.
We reviewed and basically interviewed many different agencies and consulted with various organizations like the Human Rights Campaign. We decided to have our home study completed before we made the decision on an agency.
We talked with various attorneys in our state to understand what to expect on our journey as a gay couple. We wanted to know what we would be asked to do through out the whole process. We wanted to be as prepared as possible.
We felt really partial to a particular agency so we decided to take a trip to attend one of their informational sessions. We were in a room full of single individuals, same-sex couples and heterosexual couples.
Questions were being asked and a couple shared their journey to parenthood. In this four-hour seminar we knew that this was where we belonged. We decided to attend their weekend intensive course and become a part of their adoptive families.
We are now an approved family in waiting. We are officially on our journey to parenthood. We hope to grow our family not only with a child but with a birth family as well.
What obstacles have you run into your adoption journey as a gay couple?
Finding the right agency for us was a definite obstacle. There are a lot of Christian-based adoption agencies in our region as well as in our surrounding states.
We both are Christian and we were shocked about how we were received when it came to our desire to adopt. One agency offered to let us pay them their fee but they would not promote us like other families. If we found the birth family, they would proceed with the steps to complete the adoption. This was very disappointing to both of us but we didn’t veer off course.
When you started, did you have any idea it would be this hard?
We had no idea that the journey from deciding to adopt to becoming an approved waiting family would be a hard process. That part was a lot of hard work.
A lot of work! It definitely is filled with daily tasks that need to be completed and this and that and a lot of checklists. Then you get the final approval and your profile becomes “live.” Then you take a deep breath and exhale and think to yourself…now what?
What’s been the worst part of your open adoption journey?
After talking to several individuals in our state and gay couples about their adoption journeys in our state, we knew we wanted to complete our home study first. There is so much involved with this process, mentally, financially and emotionally. We wanted to get the approval of a social worker before we moved any further. We started with baby steps.
It didn’t take long to realize it would be tough to find a licensed social worker that had experience with same-sex couples. This was important to us. Our social worker drove over four hours from Nashville to do our home study.
We were nervous and stressed. You do what you can to make sure there is not a speck of dust anywhere. The memory of the first visit and sitting at our dinning room table talking about why we wanted to adopt and every question that followed was nerve racking. It never really feels good to be under a microscope.
We feel blessed with that experience. We gained an ally in our social worker. We email back and forth regularly and can’t wait to see her again because hopefully it will be because we are adoptive parents.
What’s been the best part of your adoption journey?
When you make the enormous decision on what path you will take to growing your family you then learn what it will take to get there. You basically open up your life to be reviewed. Everything from medical history and medical tests to financial stability is scrutinized.
Someone even comes into your home, on multiple occasions, and decides if you are going to have a child. Then you create marketing material. The text gets reviewed and edited along with pictures and layout. You read books and attend a weekend intensive course. It takes months to complete.
You might be thinking how does this have anything to do with the best part? The day when everything is complete and you are an approved waiting family, you feel like an overnight success. An overnight success that took four months.
We received our Dear Birthmother Letter when Matthew was working. I waited what seemed like days for him to get home so we could share the joy of opening them together. This is no joke, it felt absolutely amazing to see our very own letter after seeing so many of them of the families before us. We felt like we truly worked hard to represent who we are as individuals and as a couple and we were very happy how it turned out.
Why do you think there’s still so much opposition to gay adoption?
I personally think that the opposition to gay adoption comes from misinformation as well as ideas and a thought process that is outdated and taught. There are a lot of people and organizations that are working hard to educate people that there isn’t any difference in a child raised by a heterosexual couple versus a same-sex couple.
While you have one group using recent data from research saying there is no issue, there is another group using data from research several decades ago that didn’t even include same-sex couples in their research.
Do you think attitudes toward gay adoption are changing?
We both feel positive and optimistic about new studies and commentary that show the tide is changing among individuals in the United States. It is also encouraging by all the changes happening to same-sex couples around the world.
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on DOMA and Prop 8 as well as the push for equality is full steam ahead. We have great representation and positive images of gay individuals as well as couples in numerous television shows and media outlets. I guess I will use my chance to reference Dan Savage. I honestly believe that every day it gets better.
What do you think needs to be done to open up the open adoption process for hopeful gay parents?
I think that our adoption agency, Independent Adoption Center, is making great strides in helping spread the message of open adoption by gay couples. We visited one of the IAC’s free informational sessions in Atlanta and imagine our surprise when we found out it was also Atlanta Gay Pride Weekend.
Since I had never been to a Pride event, Matthew insisted that we go. We were so excited to find that the IAC had a booth to answer questions about open adoption. Our coordinator even made the comment that people ask her all the time at these events if “gay people can adopt?” The answer is yes!
We, as a same sex couple, are also trying to portray a positive image for all gay couples, whether they want to adopt or not have children at all. We are doing what we can to spread the message and send this movement forward. All we really want is for what type of couple we are to become irrelevant. When it become irrelevant, we have reached the finish line.
As a gay couple, do you think you’ll have a harder time finding a match with expectant parents considering adoption than other couples?
In the beginning of our journey we were concerned if someone would pick us or what kind of negative reaction we might receive. This is another area that our agency helped out tremendously. When you visit their branch in Atlanta, you will see several bulletin boards with individuals that have matched as well as adopted a child.
I am very number-orientated so it did not take long for me to notice that the board of those wanting to adopt that had “matched” with a birth family were 60% same-sex couples.
On the bulletin board of those that had already welcomed a child into their home were 50% same-sex couples. So at this moment we felt even more excited and realized this is going to happen. We are going to be dads.
What are some of the things you’re doing to level the playing field with other hopeful adoptive parents?
There are a lot of families and individuals that want to become parents through adoption. It is very apparent there are more families waiting than there are birth families. While some may have a better advantage than others, we do not think there is really anyway to make things level. What would be exciting about life if we all were cookie cutter?
Our journey began with our commitment to be ourselves. We worked hard to show who we were as a couple and what we desire as parents. I think we have an advantage over what people consider as traditional. It seems that people overuse the word traditional.
Tradition is something that happens ever so often. Tradition to me is the University of Florida and the University of Georgia football game every year. As far as I know, that tradition has happened every year for a century.
We know that we have the capabilities and experience to help a child to evolve into a young adult that shows love, respect and kindness. We have experience in uniqueness and individuality. I can say with confidence, that as parents we would not have a child that turns out to be an “Average Joe”. Maybe we are the one with an advantage.
What do you know about the open adoption process now that you wish you had known when you started?
I wish we had known that we didn’t need to worry about “the what-ifs.” We didn’t need to fit into a certain box to become parents and we didn’t need to say this or that to become parents. All we had to do was be ourselves and everything else would happen when it is/was supposed to. Fortunately, we learned it very early on in our journey.
Editor’s Note: The Independent Adoption Center closed in 2017.
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