Governor Signs Rosenthal Legislation Expanding Adoption Rights for Unmarried and Same-Sex Couples

New York, NY – New York State Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WFP, Manhattan) and Senator Thomas K. Duane (D – WFP Manhattan) announced that their landmark legislation permitting unmarried partners, including same-sex couples, to adopt a child together was signed into law by Governor David A. Paterson. The new law not only specifies that two unmarried intimate partners may adopt a child together but it also replaces prior references to “husband” and “wife” with the gender neutral term "married couple,” so that the law applies to all married couples.

“This is a terrific victory for the LGBT community and for children lucky enough to have two people committed to raising them with the full protection of the law, and I am excited that Governor Paterson has signed this legislation into law,” said Assemblymember Rosenthal. “Previously, children without two legal guardians could be denied life insurance payments, and had to fight for the right to health insurance and other crucial benefits. By correcting this situation children will be able to have continued access to both parents and extended family in the event of separation and help them avoid the heartbreak and uncertainty that could emerge in the event of one parent’s death. While my goal is nothing less than full marriage equality for all New Yorkers, this is an important interim step for same-sex couples seeking to raise children."

Senator Duane said, “Until now, same-sex couples who wanted to jointly adopt in New York State had to rely on judicial interpretations of court cases and vague language in State regulations, which may not be the same in Potsdam and Jamestown as in Manhattan and Brooklyn. No longer will same-sex couples who want to jointly adopt be subject to the whims of geography.”

Although this right was previously affirmed in the 4-3 New York State Court of Appeals’ ruling Matter of Jacob and Matter of Dana in a majority opinion authored by then Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, the court did not specifically address instances in which neither adult is a biologically related to the child. Unmarried couples have continued to experience difficulties in attaining the rights afforded to them in this decision, and must file two different applications and go through two separate certification processes. This bill would codify the Court of Appeals’ decision and end existing legal ambiguities. Current statutory provisions in New York State law permit only an adult person or adult husband and wife to adopt a child.

A New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division reached a similar conclusion in Matter of Adoption of Carolyn B, upholding “both the letter and the spirit of the statute as it has developed: ‘encouraging the adoption of as many children as possible regardless of the sexual orientation or marital status of the individuals seeking to adopt them.’”

In her opinion on the Matter of Jacob and Matter of Dana, former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye wrote “Because the two adoptions sought – one by an unmarried heterosexual couple, the other by the lesbian partner of the child's mother – are fully consistent with the adoption statute, we answer this question in the affirmative. To rule otherwise would mean that the thousands of New York children actually being raised in homes headed by two unmarried persons could have only one legal parent, not the two who want them.”

Twenty seven other states offer varying degrees of this protection, although many of these court cases have been adjudicated below the state-wide level. Assemblymember Rosenthal said, “I look forward to assisting New York families that seek to take advantage of this new law.”

Under existing application of the law, parents face onerous legal burdens and unnecessary anxiety. The full protections offered by the bill include:

  • Social security benefit in the event of a parent's death or disability;
  • Life insurance benefits in the event of a parent's death;
  • The right to sue for wrongful death of a parent;
  • The rule to inherit under the rules of intestacy;
  • Eligibility for health insurance coverage under both parents' health insurance policies;
  • The right to have two parents participate in medical decisions in the event of an emergency;
  • The right to receive economic support from two parents;
  • The emotional security of knowing that in the event of death of parent, the other will have presumptive custody;
  • The right to continue the relationships with both parents and extended families in the event of a separation; and
  • The right to have both parents named on the birth certificate.