In 1995, Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Nancy Wheeler was presiding over the juvenile court where adoptions are ratified. She began to grant second-parent adoptions to same-sex couples who were foster parents. She explained years later:
"I thought that it was an outrage that we encouraged and, in fact, had a lot of gay and lesbian foster parents, but didn't allow both parties to adopt the children. So, these children had been in foster care with these same parents sometimes for a number of years and then they were adopted by one."
Judge Wheeler decided, as paraphrased by a reporter, "if one person could be an adoptive parent, then two could." When she was succeeded in juvenile court by Judge Donald Shelton, he continued to ratify second-parent adoptions. In 2002, however, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Maura Corrigan decided to put a stop to second-parent adoptions by unmarried couples. She contacted the Chief Judge of Washtenaw's county court and directed him to end the practice. Judge Archie Brown complied, issuing a memo (included in the Clearinghouse, dated 6/2/2002) declaring, "Effective immediately the Washtenaw County Trial Court and in particular, the Juvenile Division staff, shall no longer process petitions for second parent adoptions, including any petitions that are currently pending." Judge Brown cited a "legal opinion from an adoption specialist," interpreting the Michigan adoption statute.
Judge Shelton, however, pushed back, taking the position that his Chief Judge lacked the authority to dictate on a matter of law. At this point, Judge Brown reassigned all the pending cases to himself. Efforts to disqualify Judge Brown failed, and second-parent adoptions were dead in Washtenaw County. (Two years later, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion that the statute disallowed joint adoption by unmarried couples. 2004 Mich. OAG No. 7160 (Mich.A.G.), 2004 WL 2096457 (Sept. 14, 2004).) Such adoptions apparently continued in at least one other location, but the Washtenaw episode at least greatly reduced their number, in Michigan, and perhaps all but shut them down. Margo Schlanger - 08/28/2014