Two Delaware Dads Now Both Legal Parents of Children They Have Been Raising

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Lambda pleased that court saw second-parent adoption by gay father as in children's best interests
October 15, 2001

(NEW YORK, Monday, October 15, 2001) —Two youngsters in Delaware now share two legal fathers thanks to a ruling that allowed a gay man to adopt his partner’s children, said Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented the father.

Having been born premature and cocaine addicted, both boys were considered “difficult to place” by the foster care system. Nevertheless, the children thrived in the care of their adopted father, Gene Hart, and his long-term partner, Burke Shiri, whose real names are being kept confidential to protect the children’s privacy.

Gene adopted one child in 1999, the other in 2000, and Burke functioned alongside him in every way as a parent to the boys. In June of last year, he filed a petition for adoption of the two children under Delaware’s adoption provision.

“In raising my children I provide them with what my parents have given me--love and the security of a happy home,” Burke said. “This decision by the court does no less than ensure their right to my care and support.”

The Delaware family court Friday approved what is known as a second-parent adoption, making clear that both fathers, gay men who have lived together for 22 years, are equal parents, and giving significant protection to the children, ages six and one. Second-parent adoption allows a person to adopt the children of his or her partner without terminating the first parent’s legal status as a parent. In his decision, Chief Judge Vincent J. Poppiti found that granting this adoption was in the children’s best interest.

“In fact and in law what does matter in their best interests is that Peter and George(pseudonyms for the children) have already begun to reap the benefits of the love of these two men, and have even in their tender years returned it in kind,” Poppiti writes in his decision. “...[W]hat does matter in the best interests of Peter and George is that they are thriving in the environment created by Gene Hart and Burke Shiri.”

This is the first time a second-parent adoption has been granted to a gay family in Delaware, said Lambda Cooperating Attorney Norman C. Simon of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, who handled the case.

“The court’s carefully reasoned opinion legalizes the strong bonds of love in this family and will pave the way for other families throughout Delaware to protect their children,” he said.

Granting the adoption provides practical securities for the children, like the right to social security, inheritance and insurance benefits, and the ability of both fathers to make important medical decisions. The court’s order recognizes that these children are being raised in a home with two equally dedicated parents.

“Burke has a deep commitment to these children, and to creating a family for them,” said Ruth Harlow, Lambda Legal Director. “He has provided financial and emotional support, and has fed, bathed and clothed them since the day they came to live in his home. These children know Burke as one of their parents and they deserve to have that relationship legalized.”

Second-parent adoptions are widely available to non-gay stepparents, and in an increasing number of states, to lesbian, gay and other unmarried couples as well. At least 22 states recognize the validity and importance of second-parent adoptions.

Lambda is the oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. With 16 attorneys, Lambda has its headquarters in New York and regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Lambda will open an office in Dallas in 2002.

(In Re Adoption of G.H. and P.H.)

Contact: Ruth Harlow 212-809-8585 x 210
Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 1-888-987-1984 (pager)



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