Friday, May 18, 2007

Georgia judge halts lesbian adoption

Days away from her seventh birthday, a little girl named Emma Rose is currently trapped in Georgia’s foster care system, unable to reunite with the woman who has been her mother for almost a year — all because the mother is a lesbian.

The prospective adoptive mother, Elizabeth Hadaway, was also sentenced to 10 days in jail earlier this month by a Wilkinson County Superior Court judge who refused to grant the adoption in part because “the child will have a long-term exposure to the homosexual parent’s lifestyle.”

Wilkinson County is located about 133 miles southeast of Atlanta.

“I thought one of the first rules of being a judge was putting your owns morals or views or whatever aside — you’re supposed to be fair,” Hadaway said. “I didn’t think who I decided to sleep with at night would determine whether I was a good parent — I didn’t know that was even possible.

“I’m hurt and I’m let down, but I feel even worse for Emma,” added Hadaway, 28.

Hadaway first began trying to adopt Emma Rose last spring at the request of the young girl’s biological mother, Deborah Schultz, who is also a lesbian. According to court documents and an interview with Hadaway, Schultz informed Hadaway that she had fallen on tough times and asked Hadaway to take custody of her six-year-old daughter.

Hadaway traveled to Florida last May to pick up Emma Rose, and a month later she was granted legal custody of the child by Wilkinson County Superior Court Judge James Cline. A few months later, Hadaway underwent a mandatory home evaluation by a local adoption agency, where it came out that Hadaway was a lesbian and living with her partner of seven years.

“We were pretty open about it and the lady who did the home evaluation was fine with it,” said Hadaway, who noted that the home evaluation found her suitable to adopt Emma Rose.

During a November hearing to finalize the adoption, Hadaway said Wilkinson County Superior Court Judge John Lee Parrott was originally supportive and encouraging of the adoption he was preparing to grant; however, once Parrott skimmed the home evaluation report, Hadaway said the judge’s mood shifted, and he began “acting really disgusted.”

“He started flipping through the home evaluation … and his whole demeanor really changed at that point,” Hadaway said. “He took his glasses off, and he sat there and looked at the other side of the room, and he said, ‘Let me get this straight — you are in a homosexual relationship,’” Hadaway said of Parrott.

Hadaway admitted she was in a lesbian relationship, and Parrott said he needed to do research to determine if Georgia law allowed adoptions by gay parents, according to Hadaway. On Jan. 8, 2007, Parrott issued a ruling that denied Hadaway the right to adopt Emma Rose and ordered the young child be returned to her biological mother within 10 days.

Parrott did not respond to interview requests.

Family union

Parrott’s 16-page ruling is inundated with references to Hadaway’s homosexuality, and his belief that placing Emma Rose in a lesbian home is not in the best interest of the child.

Parrott conceded that Georgia law has no requirements relating to the sexual orientation of adoptive parents, but accused Hadaway of attempting to “subterfuge and sham” the court by applying as a single adoptive parent when she “seeks to accomplish an adoption by a de facto homosexual couple," according to a copy of the ruling provided to Southern Voice by Hadaway.

Parrott also argued that the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage approved by Georgia voters in 2004 effectively prohibits adoptions by same-sex couples.

“[Hadaway] seeks to have her and her same-sex partner treated as a family union or unit, the same as a married couple for the purposes of adoption,” Parrott wrote. “Clearly, then, the unmarried homosexual union in this case would be getting a direct benefit of marriage under Georgia adoption law: the ability to adopt.”

Without the legal protections of divorce, Hadaway has no way to insure her lesbian partner will maintain financial responsibility if the couple breaks up, Parrott noted.

“If approved, the requested adoption would place the child in a markedly less secure legal environment than a child adopted by a legally married couple,” wrote Parrott.

But Hadaway contends that she alone is financially secure enough to raise Emma Rose, and that her partner’s income was included in the home evaluation because the report requires the listing of financial information for all adults in the household.

Parrott also ruled against placing Emma Rose with Hadaway because the young girl would be exposed to both homosexuality and discrimination.

“If the instant adoption is approved, inevitably the child will witness both directly and circumstantially the homosexual activity of [Hadaway] and her same-sex partner,” Parrott wrote. “There has been no study conducted … into the isolation and stigma that the child may face growing up in a small, rural town with two women, in whose care she was placed at the age of six, who openly engage in homosexual relationship.”

‘Deprived child'?

Parrott’s ruling ordered Emma Rose to be returned to Deborah Schultz within 10 days, or be declared a “deprived child” and turned over the Georgia Department of Family & Children Services. Hadaway and Shultz met at a truck stop in Jeffersonville, Ga., on Jan. 12, 2007, but Shultz refused to take Emma Rose back to Florida with her, instead reiterating her wish for Hadaway to raise the young girl.

Prior to Parrott’s Jan. 8 ruling, Hadaway left her longtime partner and moved to Bibb County, 70 miles south of Atlanta, which she considered more progressive and tolerant than Wilkinson County. After Shultz refused to regain custody of Emma Rose, Hadaway said she was encouraged by attorneys and DFCS workers to apply for an adoption in Bibb County Superior Court.

Upon discovering that Emma Rose remained in Hadaway’s custody, Parrott issued two more rulings: a Feb. 12 order to place Emma Rose in DFCS custody, and a March 23 ruling finding Hadaway and her attorney in criminal contempt for not following his order to transfer custody of the child. The two women were sentenced to 10 days in jail, or five days plus a $500 fine, but are currently appealing Parrott’s decision.

Citing a report by Alicia Gregory, a doctor hired by Wilkinson County DFCS to conduct an independent assessment of Emma Rose’s situation, Bibb County Superior Court Judge Tilman Self ruled March 30 that Hadaway be restored custody.

“Dr. Gregory concluded, and in fact was quite adamant, that Emma’s best interests would be served by returning Emma to [Hadaway’s] custody,” Self wrote. “Indeed, Dr. Gregory stated that Emma’s current foster placement was the worst possible scenario for Emma.”

But when Hadaway and Wilkinson County sheriff’s deputies attempted to retrieve Emma Rose from her foster family on April 3, they were rebuffed.

“The foster family would not turn her over to me,” Hadaway said. When the sheriff’s deputies informed the foster family that they had a Bibb County court order demanding Emma Rose be returned to Hadaway, the foster father allegedly called Parrott. The judge told the officer that he was not recognizing the Bibb County order, and if Hadaway wanted custody of Emma Rose she would have to re-apply in Wilkinson County.

“If anyone’s a pervert in this whole thing, it’s him — he’s sick,” Hadaway said of Parrott. “He’s mad because I’m gay, and he doesn’t want me to have custody.”

With Georgia law neither banning nor endorsing same-sex adoption explicitly, Parrott’s original order denying the adoption to Hadaway was within his authority, said Jim Outman, an adoption attorney in Atlanta.

But Hadaway is entitled to re-apply for an adoption if her circumstances change — such as moving to Bibb County — and Parrott’s efforts to prevent that have been “very extreme,” Outman said.

“If I petition [a judge] to do something and you deny my petition, that doesn’t invite you to become my enemy for life,” Outman said. “He’s carrying his beliefs beyond any case before him, and he’s saying he’s going to save this child from this lesbian woman.”

Hadaway’s new lawyer — Parrott prohibited her first attorney from continuing to represent Hadaway after he found them both in contempt — is filing a habeas corpus claim and a writ of mandamus with the Georgia Supreme Court in an attempt to get the Bibb County custody order enforced.

There is no timeline for when a ruling will be issued.