Tim Hussin, Deseret Morning News
Kim, left, and Ruth Hackford-Peer want Utah law modified so Kim can adopt Casey, whom she's holding, as she did Riley, on couch.

Kim Hackford-Peer was by the side of her lesbian partner, Ruth, when both of the couple's two children were born, yet she's only legally a parent to one of them.

Kim was able to adopt Riley, Ruth's biological child, because he was born in Massachusetts where same-sex couples can adopt. But 1-year-old Casey was born in Utah, where they cannot.

It's an issue that lawmakers will consider during the current legislative session. Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, is sponsoring HB318, which would remove a 2000 ban on adoption by cohabitating couples, gay and straight. It would leave in place the current preference for married couples.

Currently, only married couples and singles can adopt or be foster parents in Utah.

The bill will likely face an uphill battle in a state where voters have approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and other domestic unions.

Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Deseret Morning News editorial board Wednesday that adoption and foster care don't violate the marriage amendment because they don't comprise "substantial amount" of marriage rights.

There are an estimated 1,226 children being raised by same-sex couples in Utah, according to a recent report by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles.

"The state is not going to recognize anything," Thompson said. "These families are already in existence. We're not trying to create a back door."

But Monte Stewart, president of the Marriage Law Foundation, said HB318 would give recognition to gay and straight unmarried couples, even though it doesn't technically violate the marriage amendment.

"That proposed bill is contrary to a fundamental public policy in this state which is that the only legally sanctioned, officially sanctioned, approved sexually based relationship will be married man/woman," Stewart said.

Chavez-Houck said the bill is both common sense and in the children's best interest.

"We say the well-being of children should come first, and that means finding the best home available," she said. "The proposal doesn't detract, but in fact endorses, a home environment with a married mother and father as the first choice. But more and more that option is not available, whether through divorce or other circumstance."

Current law prevents a parent from sharing rights with another cohabiting adult. A single parent can designate someone else for a single-parent adoption — even if the person is a romantic partner — as long as that person doesn't live under the same roof.

A spokesperson for House leadership said Wednesday night that they will reserve comment for now and will let the proposal "work its way through the process."

The Hackford-Peers don't see it as recognition for themselves, but as protection for their children because, unlike straight couples, they can't legally marry.

Even though the couple has taken steps such as wills, their family lacks the stability adoption would provide — from health insurance coverage to day-to-day life. And, they say, the wills are more vulnerable to court challenge than an adoption would be.

Kim's frustration is evident as she relates a trip to the doctors' office when Ruth had to stay behind and sign paperwork, Casey "really, really wanted Mamma Ruth comforting him ... but I couldn't sign the paperwork."

But Stewart sees their argument as a resurrection of that made against the marriage amendment in 2004.

"This state continues to sanction and approve only one sexually based relationship: man-woman marriage," he said. "They are trying to resurrect and recycle the argument the voters of this state soundly defeated in November 2004."

The bill was one of two bills Equality Utah sees as key in preventing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The other, HB89, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's provision against workplace discrimination. That bill is scheduled for a first hearing today.

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