Sen. Casey seeks Justice Department guidance on adult adoptions by gay couples
November 2, 2015 12:00 AM
Nino Esposito and Roland Bosee have been together for 45 years.
Nino Esposito, right, and Roland Bosee Jr. sit in their Fox Chapel home last month. Before same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, the couple arranged for an adult adoption of Mr. Bosee by Mr. Esposito to ensure familial legal rights. Now they are seeking to dissolve that adoption to get married.
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has taken an interest in the story of a gay couple first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — and he’s hoping the federal Department of Justice will do the same.
The Pennsylvania Democrat is sending a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking the Justice Department to “consider issuing guidance” in cases like that of Nino Esposito and his adopted son, Roland Bosee Jr.
The Fox Chapel men have been in a relationship since the 1970s. Fearing they would never be allowed to marry, they arranged for Mr. Esposito to adopt Mr. Bosee in 2012 to preserve inheritance and other family rights. After same-sex marriage was legalized, they sought to have their adoption annulled so they could marry. But an Allegheny County judge rejected the request, saying state law didn’t give him the power to grant it.
Same-sex couples have previously used adult adoption to give their relationships some legal status. But the practice has not been widely discussed.
Prior to seeing a Post-Gazette story on the couple last month, Mr. Casey said, “I wasn’t aware that LGBT couples were turning to this method. I can’t even imagine having to get an adoption petition approved in order to visit a loved one in the hospital.”
In his letter, Mr. Casey notes that “the law has changed dramatically since the adoptions were first carried out.” While he expresses hope that state courts will resolve the issue, he asks the Justice Department “to consider issuing guidance for courts across the country so that gay couples who have previously entered into adoptions can annul them in order to receive marriage licenses.”
That guidance, the letter suggested, could be based on more favorable court decisions elsewhere, including a Bucks County case in which a judge annulled a same-sex couple’s adoption.
Mr. Bosee and Mr. Esposito hailed Mr. Casey’s move, as did lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates.
“It’s fantastic,” Mr. Bosee said. “And knowing what I know of Senator Casey, this doesn’t surprise me.”
“This is great news, and I love Senator Casey for taking a position,” said Helen Casale, a Norristown, Pa., attorney who specializes in LGBT and family law.
How to dissolve adult adoptions by gay couples “is a question throughout the country,” she said.
Mr. Casey said he hoped the Justice Department would respond in time to play a role in Mr. Bosee and Mr. Esposito’s case, but he added that “this may be novel” for the department. Because adoption law is set by states, federal lawyers “may have to be creative and devise a [response] that’s respectful of a court’s prerogatives,” he said. Or they may decline to act at all.
Arthur Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh professor who teaches constitutional law, said it was unclear what impact the Justice Department could have. It could file a “friend of the court” brief, he noted, but any action “wouldn’t be binding. The question is whether it would have any persuasive effect.”
Justice officials could file what’s known as a “statement of interest,” said Mikhail Pappas, an attorney representing Mr. Bosee and Mr. Esposito. Such statements don’t express an opinion on the underlying facts, but they do suggest a legal framework for analyzing those facts, and identify constitutional issues that the Justice Department believes are at stake.
Historically, such statements have been rare, but in August The New York Times reported that the Obama administration was using them more often in an effort to “put the federal government on the record in cases that are at the forefront of civil rights law.” Most recently, the Justice Department filed an October statement concerning a case in which two disabled elementary school students were allegedly handcuffed in a Kentucky school.
Mr. Bosee and Mr. Esposito’s case is pending before Pennsylvania’s Superior Court. Andrew Gross, another attorney for the couple, said he was waiting to have a date set for oral argument.
Mr. Casey, who is long regarded as conservative on social issues, garnered national news media attention by publicly supporting same-sex marriage in 2013. While it has since become the law of the land, he said the adoption conundrum showed that the battle wasn’t over just yet.
“We’re going to be running into these complexities and glitches because of the history of discrimination,” Mr. Casey said. But “there’s been remarkable progress, and it’s been so affirming.”
Given the rapid change, he said, “I wonder why [same-sex marriage] took so long — and why it took me so long. It’s the right thing to do.”
Chris Potter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.
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