Adoption Choices for Lesbian & Gay Couples

by Judith E. Beckett, R.N.

Recent changes in state laws have made adoption a realistic choice for lesbians, gay men, and transgender people who desire to start a family or add to the one they have. Those of us who choose adoption as our path will have many other choices to make along the way.

One choice that only lesbians, gay, bi and trans people must make is how “out” to be with agencies and social workers. Though we have been adopting infants and children for decades, it is only recently that we can do so openly. Even in states where same-sex adoption is legal, the anti-lesbian, gay, bi or trans attitude of an attorney or social worker can adversely affect the outcome of the adoption. Networking is invaluable for finding supportive social workers and agencies to advocate for you.

Laws vary from state to state. Some states do allow same-sex couples to jointly adopt a child. Ten states will allow your partner to adopt your child after the first adoption is final. Go to for current state by state information on second-parent adoption.

Five states currently prohibit gay men and lesbians from adopting at all. Those states are Florida, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Utah and Mississippi.

If you live in a state that prohibits same-sex adoption or you decide against coming out during the adoption process, then you must choose which partner will go through the adoption process and become your child’s legal parent.

What is adoption? Adoption is a legal process by which a child can be brought into your family with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that exist between parents and children from the moment of birth. The advice of a competent attorney is imperative both to negotiate this complex system and to avoid legal problems and future heartbreak.

Adoptions can be either domestic or international and there are choices to be made within each of these categories. For instance, domestic adoptions may be either through a public agency or a private attorney. They can be open or closed while international adoptions are almost always closed.

What is domestic adoption? Domestic adoption is the adoption of an infant or a child who was born and lives in the United States. Children in the U.S. are usually surrendered for adoption because their biological mother or parents are not able or not willing to care for them. This may be due to financial, social or psychological stressors.

The cost of domestic adoption through a public agency such as a foster care program is minimal. Private agencies will often waive or reduce their fees when you adopt a child from foster care and the government will reimburse you for adoption expenses.

Adoption of a special needs child is very affordable as well. In fact, the state will often provide some financial support for a special needs child. If you adopt from foster care, you will also receive a $10,000 tax credit.

Adoption of an infant through a private agency most often involves an open adoption. This means that you have met the birth mother at least once. The birth parent(s) may have chosen you from a photograph and a short description of you and your partner shown to them by the agency social worker. You might be present at the birth of your child but usually this is not the case. Contact after the adoption is determined by agency policy and by your wishes and those of the birth parent(s).

You may decide that you want a closed adoption. You do not want any contact with your child’s birth parents. In that case, the rights of the biological parents are terminated and the legal records are sealed. Most agencies no longer handle this type of adoption and it is not foolproof. Many adopted children wishing to learn more about their genetic heritage later request that the courts open their records.

The cost of adoption through a private agency can range from $5,000 to $25,000. This includes the cost of the home study ($700-$2000), the mother’s medical expenses, and other agency fees.

At least half of the 30,000 adoptions that take place every year in this country are independent or private adoptions. If this is your choice, without involving an agency you will need to locate a birthmother on your own. This could happen through friends, relatives, clergy, or advertisements in newspapers or on the internet, for instance.

You will need to hire an adoption attorney to answer legal questions and handle the paperwork. You may also ask your attorney to find a birthmother for you. To minimize risks associated with private adoptions, find a reputable attorney accustomed to working with birthmothers by asking friends who have adopted for a referral. Or go to Private adoptions can cost from $12,000 to as much as $35,000 and beyond.

What is international adoption? International adoption is the adoption of a child who was born and is living in a country other than the United States. You may choose international adoption because you believe that it will take less time and might be less expensive. It will also be a closed adoption, avoiding any future problems with the birthparent(s), because all of their parental rights will have been terminated. Or you may be planning a multi-cultural family or one that reflects your own or your partner’s heritage.

However, right now there are no foreign countries that will allow openly gay and lesbian parents to adopt. Therefore, if you choose international adoption, you must remain closeted. This can add significantly to the stress of the adoption process. You must also choose which of you will become the legal parent.

It’s true that, for GLBT people, the path to parenthood may present more obstacles along the way. But this path, like all paths, will become smoother the more it is tread. So, if adoption is your choice, pack up your love, patience and perseverance and head on out.

Information published on The Rainbow Babies website is not a substitute for proper medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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