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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Sen. Ross Romero presents a bill that would allow unmarried cohabitants to adopt a child under certain conditions to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Senate committee tabled a bill Monday that would have allowed individuals in same-sex relationships to adopt the child of their partner.

The bill would have allowed a child to be adopted by their parent's cohabiting non-spouse who has developed a "parental relationship" with the child, as long as the child has only one legal parent. 

"The more individuals directly responsible for the care and upbringing of a child the better," said SB62's sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake. 

Although the second-parent adoption bill appears to be geared toward same-sex couples, it also addresses individuals in heterosexual relationships who wish to share their parental rights with a cohabiting partner. 

Romero acknowledged that some might wonder why this bill is needed when legal guardianship exists. He said the problems with legal guardianship are children can't inherit from their guardian and the guardian's relationship with the child ends when their relationship with the parent does. 

A new mother, Julie Gainer, testified that since she and her same-sex partner, Jennifer Bush, are both acting as parents, they should both legally be designated as such. Gainer called Utah's current second-parent adoption law "discriminating."

Gainer's neighbor, Ray Anderson, said he thinks the relationship that she and Bush have established makes a lot of sense. "We look at them as parents and outstanding neighbors."

Bill Duncan, director of Sutherland Institute's Center for Family and Society, denied that any adult has the right to adopt a child. "Children deserve, where it's at all possible, to have the opportunity to be raised by a mother and father."

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative activist organization, said she thinks this bill would "completely and totally gut" Utah's adoption laws. "There would be almost no situation where [couples] couldn't adopt."

Romero acknowledged that, under the bill, a single person could adopt a child and then choose to share parental rights with a same-sex partner later, though he didn't specify a the time that would have to pass between those events. He said the bill "reflects good policy, which is having a parental relationship which exists with a child be allowed to be extended to another co-parent."

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The Senate Health and Human Services Committee tabled the bill on a 5-1 vote. For it to be reconsidered, a majority of the committee would have to agree to put the bill back on its agenda. 

Romero said he would be willing to work with the committee to get the bill passed. He is considering amending the bill to limit second-parent adoption to couples who have been together for a certain amount of time. This is in response to a concern that cohabitants might not be that committed to each other.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, is sponsoring a similar bill in the House, HB108. It has yet to be heard by a committee.

E-mail: averzello@desnews.com