The Adult Adoption Option

by Zeke Turner | 4/10/07 5:00am

Most people find it strange that Woody Allen is married to Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his former lover. But if Woody and Soon-Yi were lesbians, people would not be so critical. You can thank Uncle Sam for that conundrum.

While our laws mostly protect us, all too often, we forget the shortcomings of the legal system when attempting to regulate our emotions. The law can simplify the nuances of our lives a great deal by setting up systems for certain institutions (i.e., marriage and adoption). But the legal framework ignores same-sex couples, leaving many of America's families out in the cold.

In 1991, Olive Watson, the granddaughter of the founder of I.B.M., Thomas Watson Sr., adopted her lover, Patricia Ann Spado. As Watson's legal daughter, Spado was entitled to a share of her estate -- the same privilege that would be extended to a wife by her husband.

Adoption and marriage are both legal systems, which afford people who love each other certain legal privileges. Nobody should need to tell us that marriage is for adults who want to start their own families, and adoption is for adults who want to welcome children into their families. Leaving same-sex couples to their own devices, the government has forgotten this simple definition.

Adult adoption is just one possible way to navigate laws that righteously defend marriage from same-sex couples. By protecting (insert scare quotes liberally) the institution of marriage, our government is actually challenging institutions such as adoption. Laws designed to protect American communities are actually chipping away at the very foundation of our country.

Families are the bedrock and cornerstones of America's communities. The strongest families are ones that are built around love and respect. To stipulate that a man and a woman are the only components for a functioning family is to ignore the love that happens ubiquitously between members of the same sex and is to weaken the very foundation of our state.

And not only are we missing out on a better America, but the America that we have is suffering the consequences of ignoring same-sex couples.

Less than a year after Spado and Watson filed their adoption, they separated. Now their clever legal maneuver is nothing but a headache for the two women who are squabbling in court over Watson's multi-million dollar inheritance. The legal bond they forged has become a tangled knot of lawyer fees and broken hearts, which nobody can seem to untie.

The New York Times used Spado and Watson's inheritance case to underscore the complication involved with the legal devices that same-sex couples are forced to use to circumnavigate marriage. "One benefit that comes with marriage is a universally understood framework for formally dissolving relationships and settling financial matters," read an editorial published in March.

The nuisance of undoing Spado and Watson's adoption is considerable. The legal headache, however, pales in comparison to the irrationality of the value system behind the laws that force same-sex couples to resort to alternatives to marriage.

People -- even of the same gender -- have been falling in love and taking care of each other for longer than we know. Family units formed and dissolved before any law code existed to define the nuances of matrimony or childbirth. Modern laws are light-years behind the development of our emotional fabric as humans; any legal construct is superficial and trivial compared to the ancient and instinctual sanctity of love.

The world around us and the social definitions therein are changing everyday. It is time we should adopt and respect love, the oldest human tradition, and release ourselves from the thought that anything else matters.

It does not matter if Woody Allen wants to shtup his adopted daughter because adoption is just a legal invention. And it does not matter what legal construct defines the love that two men or two women share for each other.

Our laws exaggerate the outsider status of same-sex couples. And thus the traditional foundation of our communities -- the family unit -- is sacrificed on the altar of legal invention. Do we really want our laws to stunt the growth of strong families and strong communities?

Spado and Watson remind me of my favorite Woody Allen quotation: "I believe there's something out there watching us. Unfortunately, it's the government."

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