Michael Gallucio and Jon Holden wanted to adopt their two-year-old foster son, Adam. They were initially told they could not adopt him jointly, but could go through the adoption process twice, the New York Times reported. They decided to sue, and worked with the ACLU and 200 other gay and lesbian families to bring a class-action suit. They also continued to pursue a joint adoption.
Judge Sybil Moses of Bergen County Superior Court granted them their adoption in October 1997. Other courts in several states had “quietly” granted joint adoptions to same-sex couples before, and Vermont and Massachusetts were allowing them statewide. The combination of the dad’s adoption and the lawsuit impelled New Jersey to make this clear in its state law. Once the judge’s strongly favorable opinion was on record, the state decided to settle the class-action suit and “[clear] up the ambiguity” in its adoption law, according to the state Deputy Human Services Commissioner, Michelle Guhl. This made New Jersey “the first state to say in its adoption policy that gay and unmarried couples would be measured by the same standards as married couples,” wrote the NYT. Even though New Jersey’s action “was remarkable only insofar as it explicitly allowed a category of adoptions that have been quietly taking place in a number of states in recent years,” explicit legal protections for same-sex couples were pretty remarkable at the time.
Go read the full article to see not only the details of the case, but to gain a sense of how the media was covering LGBTQ families two decades ago. (It was still acceptable to talk of “homosexual couples,” for example.) Note, too, the quote from Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director for GLAD, who went on to be lead counsel in the case that won marriage equality in Massachusetts and argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2015 Obergefell case that won full nationwide marriage equality. Bonauto, who would several years later become a mom herself, observed:
Courts are more used to having to coerce people to take responsibility for and care for their children, and so when someone, anyone, comes in asking to be made responsible, they are very sympathetic. For these states, sexual orientation is not the issue. Parenting ability is the issue.
It was true then, and it’s still true now.