Joe Earley is used to exercising control during critical situations. But in the past two years, the senior VP of corporate communications for Fox Broadcasting has had to relinquish the reins for what may be the most important matter of his life: adopting a child.
For industry players who are accustomed to calling the shots, the restrictive, rule-laden process of adoption leads to many a sleepless night.
And when the adoptive parents are gay, like Earley, the path to becoming a family can be even bumpier.
From navigating the maze of nebulous mandates that govern gay adoption to finding a match with a birth mother, the prospective parents’ patience and fortitude are constantly put to the test.
“So much of it was out of our hands,” Earley says, “so when everything was finalized, it really hit us — no more deadlines, no more paperwork, no more wondering if someone filed the necessary documents.”
Under the guidance of the Kinship Center, a nonprofit organization that offers family services, Earley and his partner of 14 years, Adrian Alvarez, finalized the adoption of a 3½-year-old girl in April. The toddler, previously in foster care, now calls Earley “Daddy” and Alvarez “Papi.”
While they chose a child in the state system, other couples tap into international and private sources to avoid governmental red tape.
But even then, roadblocks exist.
China now restricts some adoptions, after realizing that many who turn to the country for children are gay, and the U.S. government bans adoptions from Cambodia to prevent the sale of babies. With private adoptions, there’s always the fear that birth mothers will chose a heterosexual couple over a gay couple.
Jonathan Murray, co-founder of Bunim/Murray Prods. (“The Real World,” “Road Rules”), and partner Harvey Reese elected to go the private route. They toiled for a year alongside an attorney to bring home son Dylan, who’s now 4.
“It took about nine months until we finally hooked up with Dylan’s birth mom, and boy we were anxious by that point,” says Murray, who has been with Reese for 11 years. “We were just like, ‘When is this going to happen? Is it going to happen?'”
Earley, Murray and their partners were able to adopt their children as couples, but some gay men and lesbians are not as lucky.
Florida still has legislation that bans adoption by anyone who’s gay (though it’s currently being challenged). Most other states make decisions on a case-by-case basis, since the federal government does not dictate adoption law.
Problems can arise when one half of the unmarried couple wants to adopt the child of their partner.
Commonly referred to as a “second-parent adoption,” the trying process often requires the would-be parent to justify and prove how they have a connection to a child they’ve known to be their own all along.
But getting lost in the muddle of legalities is risky, says Joan Garry, exec director of GLAAD, who adopted partner Eileen Opatut’s three biological children 10 years ago. She stresses that it’s important not to lose sight of the fundamental purpose of adoption — establishing a legal tie to the child.
Without a binding document, the caregiver does not legally have rights over the child, even if he or she has been bandaging scrapes and taking temperatures since birth. Without that second adoption, only one person can sign off on report cards or make decisions in emergency situations.
“There’s no question that kids are going to be in gay or lesbian households,” Garry says, “so enabling a parent to adopt is all about their best interest. It’s really that simple.”
As acceptance and understanding of gay parenting increases with every passing year, it’s easier for same-sex couples to just focus on providing the most loving environment for their kids.
In doing so, the families say they face the same challenges as any nuclear clan, such as worrying about how to raise a well-adjusted child and finding ways to juggle demanding careers with personal lives.
Dylan, Murray’s and Reese’s son, often plays with other adopted kids at family events hosted by the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center.
The organization regularly sets up activities such as screenings of family films and concerts at the L.A. County Museum of Art. Its most popular get-together, Family Day in the Park, typically draws around 150 people, including dozens of producers, editors and other industryites.
Earley and Alvarez enlist the help of friends and family to make sure their daughter, who is biracial, grows up in a well-rounded environment. In addition to grandmothers and aunts who provide a female presence, she also has positive black role models in her life.
Hilary Rosen, chairman-CEO of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, announced a few months ago that she’s leaving her powerful post at the end of the year to devote more time to her young children. She and longtime partner Elizabeth Birch, exec director of the Human Rights Council, adopted newborn twins in 1999.
At the time, Rosen and Birch were targets of the Family Research Council, a right-wing religious organization that loudly contested the adoption. The group claimed the couple would deprive the children of “a normal family life.”
But with the number of “Leave It to Beaver” families diminishing, that kind of opposition doesn’t carry the currency it used to, says Rebecca Isaacs, interim exec director of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. “I think the right wing began to see that most people aren’t going to stand for that level of hostility.”
Moreover, schools are starting to take the lead in demonstrating to kids that the makeup of a traditional household is changing. The daycare Earley’s daughter attends already has plans in place to deal with holidays such as Mother’s Day (grandmas luck out here).
And the movie library at Crossroads Elementary School in Santa Monica — a popular choice among showbiz parents — includes “That’s a Family,” a doc about family diversity shown every year through third grade.
“Everybody has something to deal with,” Earley says.
“A lot of kids today are from single-parent homes. Some people have divorced parents. Or maybe they have a disability. The key in all of these situations is to grow up without shame, to be open and honest from the beginning.”