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N.J. Judge Allows Two Gay Men To Jointly Adopt Toddler But Aclu, Legal Experts Say Narrowness Of Ruling Means It Won’t Set A Precedent

Thu., Oct. 23, 1997

In a decision hailed by gay rights advocates, a state court judge allowed two gay men Wednesday to jointly adopt a 2-year-old boy they had cared for as foster parents since he was 3 months old.

The decision drew cheers from friends and relatives of the two men, Jon Holden and Michael Galluccio, who had gathered at the Bergen County Courthouse to await the outcome of the closed adoption hearing.

“We are so grateful for what has happened today,” Holden said outside the courthouse as Galluccio stood next to him, cradling the squirming blond-haired boy who now legally can be called Adam Holden Galluccio. “We’re a family now.”

Under state law, joint adoptions are allowed only by married couples. That has meant that when gay couples have wanted to adopt, each partner has had to file a separate petition with the courts, doubling the cost of the process.

Holden and Galluccio challenged the law when they filed jointly to adopt Adam, who had been placed in their Maywood, N.J., home shortly after being born to a drug-addicted woman infected with the AIDS virus.

But legal experts said the ruling is so narrowly focused on the facts of this case that it does not overturn the law, and the judge, Sybil R. Moses, said in a brief telephone interview that she had approved the adoption “solely because it was in the best interest of this child.”

It was not the first such adoption allowed in New Jersey. A judge, in the absence of objections by state child welfare officials, approved a similar adoption by two gay men in June 1996. But since then, the state’s Department of Youth and Family Services reportedly has said it made an administrative error in permitting that adoption, and it had opposed the joint adoption by Holden and Galluccio.

A spokesman for the agency would not comment on the apparent disparity, citing pending litigation on the issue.

The narrowness of the ruling, said Lenora M. Lapidus, legal director for the New Jersey office of the American Civil Liberties Union, means that it will have little, if any, precedent value in other adoption cases.

Still, Gina Reiss, president of the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition, hailed the ruling as “absolutely bringing us closer to formal recognition of gay and lesbian unions.”

It was in 1992 that a New York surrogate court first ruled in favor of the adoption rights of same-sex couples and unmarried couples. Only two states, New Hampshire and Florida, have laws prohibiting gays and lesbians from adopting at all.

While no one knows how many such adoptions have taken place in usually private adoption proceedings around the country, lawyers with advocacy groups cited at least one other similar case in Pennsylvania.

Michael Adams, a lawyer with the ACLU, said Wednesday’s ruling followed 1995 rulings in both New York and New Jersey that allowed same-sex partners to adopt the biological children their partners may have had from previous heterosexual relationships or through artificial insemination. A similar case is pending in Connecticut.

Because Wednesday’s decision was a narrow one, the ACLU’s Lapidus said, that group will continue with a class action filed in June challenging the state’s prohibition of joint adoptions by unmarried partners.

Holden and Galluccio are expected to remain plaintiffs in that case because they have a foster daughter, 10-month-old Madison, whom they also would like to jointly adopt.


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