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For gays, adoption irony

Some countries may reject married couples' applications

NATICK—Lynette Sinclair and Michelle Cote started to build a family last November when they adopted a baby girl, Alana, from Eastern Europe. The next steps, they hoped, would be to marry in a small ceremony when same-sex marriage is legalized in Massachusetts and then to adopt a sibling for their daughter.

But now the Natick couple, like many gay couples across the state, have realized they could be forced to choose between formalizing their relationship and adopting a child from overseas. Many foreign countries forbid gay couples from adoption. If a gay couple declares married on the required adoption paperwork, specialists say, the couple’s application could be rejected.

‘‘It’s not right,’’ Cote said on a recent morning as she held 18-month-old Alana in her lap. ‘‘We finally get to do something we always wanted to do, that everyone else has the right to do, but yet again we have to wait.’’

Gay couples typically get around foreign countries’ prohibitions by designating one partner as the official parent. That partner truthfully registers as single, thus avoiding the likely scenario of having the bid rejected by a country unwilling to give a baby to an openly gay couple.

Married gay couples would still be able to legally adopt children within the United States, because several states, including Massachusetts, have laws that allow gay adoption. Two states, Florida and Mississippi, explicitly prohibit adoption by homosexuals, though Utah bars adoption by people who are cohabiting, but not legally married, according to theNational Adoption Information Clearinghouse. And, on Monday, Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma approved a law that says his state will not recognize adoptions by same-sex couples from other states.

Many Americans, heterosexual or homosexual, try to adopt overseas, because there are so few babies available in their own country.

About 21,600 children were adopted from foreign countries by American parents last year, according to the US State Department.

While most countries do not publicize their policy barring gay adoption, it is common knowledge among adoption agencies that few countries will allow an openly gay person or couple to adopt children.

‘‘This is a potential problem, but it’s really the foreign countries that are discriminating,’’ said Paul Cates, public education director for the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to Vicki Peterson — executive director of Wide Horizons for Children, a national, nonprofit adoption agency in Waltham — officials from Russia and Guatemala often ask about the sexuality of the prospective parents.

China — the most popular provider of adopted children, sending 7,000 children to the United States last year — requires prospective single parents living with someone of the same sex to sign an affidavit stating that they are not gay, said Joyce Kauffman, chairwoman of the family law section of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association.

‘‘One of the fundamental issues is that our values are not the values of everyone else around the world,’’ said Peter Gibbs, director of the Center for Adoption Research at the University of Massachusetts.

‘‘And the question becomes how and if the various interested parties seeking to adopt respect those differences or if they seek to bypass those differences.’’

The way to sidestep those differences, gay-friendly adoption agents say, has been to have one member of a gay couple file as a single parent. When it came time to fill out the international paperwork in adopting Alana, Sinclair signed all the legal documents. Cote posed as her cousin.

‘‘It’s like a ‘‘don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy,’’ said Kauffman, who will address the issue of gay adoption today at the 31st annual New England Adoption Conference in Milford.

‘‘Because if you tell, then they won’t be able to work with you.’’

Gay-rights advocates say the potential problem with adoption is just one of several unexpected consequences that gay families will face as a result of legalized gay marriage.

‘‘It’s a step in the right direction,’’ said Corri Planck, director of policy and public affairs at the Washington-based Family Pride Coalition, a national advocacy group, ‘‘but it’s still going to leave families with a lot of questions and vulnerabilities.’’

The gay-marriage debate affects adoption agencies, too. Leah O’Leary, executive director of A Red Thread Adoption Services in Norwood, helped Sinclair and Cote adopt Alana. She told them that if they got married before adopting a second child, she would be forced to identify them as such to other countries.

Indeed, Joan Clark, executive director for the Adoption Community of New England, a nonprofit support and educational adoption organization in Holliston, said that agencies must be very careful when working with prospective gay parents, because if a country finds out that an agent is representing a homosexual client it could hinder future adoptions.

Wide Horizons for Children does not take on gay clients seeking to adopt overseas, Peterson said, because the agency does not work with any countries that allow gay adoptions.

‘‘The mission is to find homes for the children who would otherwise not have a future in the country,’’ said Peterson, who pointed out that Wide Horizons will workwith gay clients who want to adopt domestically.

O’Leary said she believes that with an untold number of unwanted children living in orphanages and institutions around the world, gays and lesbians are providing homes for children who would otherwise go without them.

‘‘Gay families are providing a critical resource for kids who definitely need homes,’’ she said. Nowthat Alana has been in the country for six months, Cote has begun the paperwork to legally serve as a coparent. The two women are weighing their options for adopting another baby. Considering how far they have come, they said, marriage can wait.

‘‘Having the second child is more important than legalizing our commitment to each other,’’ Sinclair said.

Franco Ordonez can be reached at fordonez@globe.com.

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