Waldlaw Blog

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Adoption Day in Alameda County

Fridays are adoption day in Alameda County (or at least at Oakland Superior Court, on the banks of lovely Lake Merritt). Yesterday, I had two cases on for final adoption hearings -- both lesbian couples, with adorable babies born 4 days apart, now 5 months old. I got there early, having allowed extra time for traffic, so I sat in the hallway outside the courtroom and watched people come and go out of the elevators. It was quite a scene. Oakland Superior Court is an old building, 11 stories high, with 4 courtrooms on each floor. None of the modern glass and metal stuff you see on TV. Instead, lots of wood everywhere, stone tile floors, the smell of old office buildings everywhere. Courtrooms are not segregated by the types of cases heard in them, so the courtroom across the hall from the one where the adoptions were occurring was a criminal court. While I was sitting in the hallway, there therefore was an interesting mingling happening of folks with young children, happy and dressed up for this joyful day when their adoptions would be finalized; and the usual motley crew lining up for appearances in Oakland's felony courts. (I was a public defender in Oakland for five years, and probably still have spent more time in the felony courts there than in the adoption courts, given the "every day" quality of public defender life, so the motley crew is one with which I'm very well acquainted. I even miss it, from time to time. But that's another blog altogether!) Anyway, as I was sitting on my bench, watching the ever-changing stream of human traffic go by, a man came flying out of one of the criminal courtrooms having just been ejected for waving at his wife who was in custody in the courtroom and who, he told us, he hadn't seen in several years. So on my right, a man was being penalized for trying to have some very minimal contact with his wife; while on my left, the courtroom was getting ready to legally bless the assembled crew of families-waiting-to-be-formalized through the adoption process. It made me reflect on how we value families in our society -- and on which families we value. Does denying criminals in custody the opportunity to exchange even something as small as a wave with their loved ones really serve an important security function? Or is it just part of the way in which we treat "criminals" as if they are a different brand of humans, without the needs for love and companionship and comfort that the rest of us take for granted? Definitely food for thought. But back to the adoptions. Once we got inside the courtroom, it became clear that there were an unusual number of cases on. The courtroom was literally full of happy families and small children -- cameras everywhere -- lots of smiles and laughter and congratulations all the way around. And, hmmm, there weren't a lot of men there.... I asked the clerk, whom I've known for years, what was up. Apparently, due to the judge's vacation schedule, they were hearing more cases than usual this week. So 8 cases were on the adoption calendar this morning. And -- I kid you not -- of those 8 cases, FIVE of them involved lesbian couples adopting children. Five out of eight cases. I turned to one of my clients and said "makes you wonder if straight people adopt children any more!" and she laughed and agreed that it didn't look like it. Which really makes one think. With all of this "family values" stuff in the newspapers each day, I wish some of the folks who make their livings spewing bile at same-sex families would come to Alameda County on adoption day. What they would see is a rainbow of families -- Asian, Latino, African American, Caucasian -- with children of all ages, from infants to early teens -- all having the love, the patience, the commitment to withstand whatever hurdles the State throws in front to them to assure that the children they are parenting are provided with the stability, love and protection that every child deserves. Talk about family values!!


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