Just a half decade ago, same-sex marriages were considered quite controversial. We’ve come a long way since, and in this new “age of enlightenment,” laws are gradually changing in favor of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. The conversation is expanding and now veering toward a thornier, more complex topic: same-sex couples and adoption.
A couple’s desire to grow their family and have children of their own — by whatever means possible — is one that transcends gender and sexual orientation. It’s an intrinsic human need that’s embedded in our DNA.
Manhattan-based, licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Melissa Robinson-Brown, agrees that the process of conceiving a child can be stressful between two heterosexual people, but she points out that with same-sex couples, there are inevitably other parties involved that ultimately add to those stress levels.
“Whether that be the adoption agency, a surrogate parent, a sperm or egg donor, another biological parent, or a lawyer, someone else is necessary to make having a child possible,” she says. “These processes are often time-consuming, monetary burdens, and emotionally-laden affairs.” She notes that while the outcome is often worth the stress, “it’s important to recognize the emotional toll that this can have on any couple.”
According to recent statistics, approximately four percent of adopted children are being raised by gay and lesbian parents. Dr. Robinson-Brown notes that literature suggests that when compared to children of heterosexual parents, children of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer parents show no differences in adjustment, peer relationships, depression, or anxiety. In fact, in some instances, Dr. Robinson-Brown said children of lesbian and gay parents tend to have better outcomes in terms of social and academic functioning. Moreover, they tend to have less behavioral difficulties. Overall, though, these children may face more external challenges from peers and society versus in their own homes.
“Probably one of the most important aspects of this process is seeking out legal counsel that is well-versed in the laws of the state in which the parents reside and attending to all necessary points as identified by the couple’s attorney,” she adds.
Brooklyn-based adoption lawyer Brian Esser, who regularly works with same-sex New York City couples, is raising two happy, high-energy sons with husband Kevin O’Leary in Park Slope.
“The fact that I’m an adoptive dad really resonates with people — gay and straight,” says Esser, 40, father of Keith, 4, and Jason, 17 months, both adopted at birth.
Esser has been a lawyer for more than 15 years. He started his career at large law firms handling complex litigation matters for major corporations. About three years ago, he started doing adoption-related work, after he and his husband adopted Keith, he launched his solo practice two years ago.
Tammy Scileppi: You say you empathize with your clients, because you’ve been in their shoes.
Brian Esser: When I started my practice, I was surprised to learn that there were no out LGBT lawyers who worked with families pursuing independent adoption in New York City. There are many who do second-parent adoptions, but none who focus on birth parent placement adoption. They see that I understand where they are coming from, and that I can sympathize with their concerns, without them having to articulate them, because I’ve been in their shoes.
It’s been an amazing journey getting to help people experience the joy of becoming parents. Some of my clients always knew they wanted to be parents, and it was just a question of when and how. Others didn’t feel it was an option until recently, as marriage equality spread and services for LGBT people building families became more available.
Living in New York, we’re fortunate that there are services for LGBT people, and our courts are generally welcoming to these families. We like Brooklyn, because there are all kinds of families here and our children don’t stand out because they were adopted, or because they have two gay dads.
As my clients network with potential birth parents and deal with professionals in other states, I see firsthand the discrimination families face in other states.
I really found my calling when we began the process of adoption. I felt I could take the information I’d learned — and the empathy I had developed as an adoptive parent — and share it with the world. I immersed myself in family building information — not just adoption, but also surrogacy, sperm, egg, and embryo donation. I wanted to learn all the different ways people build families.
TS: What was your adoption process like?
BE: We were waiting for a match for about seven months with our older son and about six months for the younger … really quick wait times by most standards, but it didn’t feel fast.
Then there is a whirlwind of activity. You try to learn everything you can about the child that might be your baby. You want to know everything about the birth-parents. Then you meet them — which was amazingly emotional.
Then comes another wait. The wait from when you think you have a match until the baby is actually born. We were mostly certain that neither of our sons’ birth mothers would re-think their adoption plan, but you never know. The births of both boys were truly amazing!
TS: What has the adoption process been like for other families?
BE: A recent success was obtaining a second-parent adoption for a Brooklyn gay male couple who welcomed their son via surrogacy in India. My most recent independent adoption placement was for a gay male couple in Queens.
When we started the process of adopting, we didn’t know a lot of people who were adoptive parents. Since then, people have “come out” to us as adoptive parents and as we’ve been at various preschools and day cares, we’ve met other adoptive parents, with kids our boys’ ages.
My two boys are the light of my life. They give me purpose and make me want to be a better person. People were incredibly supportive of us becoming parents. I think people could see that we were very happy together and wanted us to share that love with a child.
For families looking for adoption information, contact the Law Office of Brian Esser [540 President Street, third floor, between Third and Fourth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 747–8447, www.esser
Tammy Scileppi is a Queens-based freelance journalist and parent.