Three-year-old Jacob survived being born drug addicted, a mother who abandoned him, and a social worker who decided to let him die. Rescued by a lesbian couple, his rights should have been championed by the LGBT legal organizations, but instead, they sabotaged the lawsuit that would have granted him two legal parents.
When Jacob was born he weighed one and a half pounds. That’s the size of the average meat loaf. His drug-addicted mother didn’t want him, so he spent his first weeks on this planet alone, in a hospital, attached to tubes and wires, waging a painful struggle to hang on to life.
At four months, the social worker assigned to represent his best interest ordered the nurses to detach the tubes and the wires. She asked one of the NICU nurses to bring the baby home with her, and make him comfortable until he died. What the social worker didn’t know was that April, the nurse she chose, was actually a superhero, part of the dynamic duo of April and Jayne DeBoer-Rowse, whose superpower is saving children. Because of April and Jayne, Jacob lived.
The doctors feared Jacob would never walk or talk, but because of April and Jayne and the constant therapy they gave him, he proved their dire predictions wrong. Jacob is three now, enrolled, and doing well in a Head Start program. He knows his letters. Speaks in sentences. Can write his name, and even use a Leap Pad computer, because of Jayne and April. The two mothers gave Jacob everything he needed to thrive, except the one thing Michigan law would not allow, adoption by both his mothers. You would think with that smile and a story like his, little Jacob would have rallied the LGBT legal activists to his aid, but it appears the opposite may be true.
According to Buzzfeed, the LGBT organizations leading the legal fight for marriage equality became the latest villains to disregard Jacob’s best interest in favor of their own. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the very people who should be fighting to protect Jacob, instead sacrificed him, along with his four-year-old brother Nolan, and his three-year-old sister Ryanne, children who, like Jacob, were rescued by April and Jayne. Their excuse? Their crystal ball told them the odds for an agreeable marriage equality verdict might be better somewhere else.
When I first interviewed April and Jayne, who have been together for more than a decade, I asked April if they wanted to marry. I had an expectation that the desire to be married burned brightly in every gay couple’s heart. I remember being surprised at how unimportant that possibility seemed to her. Maybe someday, but for the moment they had three kids under three, where would they even find the time? What April and Jayne wanted, and all that they wanted, was to both be able to adopt their own three children, giving them the same privileges and rights as the children of any other two parent family.
I have never encountered anyone quite like Jayne and April. It took me a little while to understand them, and still I often remark that I think they are crazy; but they are the very best kind of crazy. Jayne’s Facebook page is always full of the problems of parenthood, sick kids, lack of sleep, unexpected financial demands. At first, I made the mistake of thinking of those posts as complaints. (Coming from me, they would have been.) Then one evening, I saw a post from one of them about two new foster children who had been entrusted to them in an emergency placement. I don’t know the reason the girls were sent to April and Jayne, superheroes don’t speak of such private matters, but I know it was sudden and temporary and emotions were on overflow. The post said “Two scared little girls finally asleep after a very hard day.” Suddenly, I got it. For Jayne, her posts about bed-wetting and runny noses and broken down vans were never negatives. They were happy accounts of her adventures in motherhood. She was not complaining, she was reveling.
Yes, April and Jayne are very much pro-marriage equality, but not everyone can fight every battle. The two of them have chosen to be comrades in arms in quite a different war, the war to save children. When they filed their lawsuit, they did it not as lesbian militants, they did it as lesbian moms. From the very beginning, their lawsuit was not about equal rights for gay couples. It was always about equal rights for the children of gay couples.
Not one LGBT organization stepped up with money, or legal assistance to help in Jacob’s adoption lawsuit. There is a special irony in that sad reality, in that these same organizations made the most headway in public opinion when they abandoned their strategy of demanding equal rights, and decided to adopt a less strident campaign of encouraging gay people to come out, showing Americans that gays are their friends and neighbors, not people to be feared. What better face could they have found to represent same-sex families than valiant little Jacob? But in the end, no one from the world of LGBT power players found Jacob important enough to fight for him. No one but his mothers.
April and Jayne found local attorneys Dana Nessel and Carol Staynor, who generously agreed to help them. They held fundraisers. They begged strangers for contributions to their legal fund. If the LGBT organizations wouldn’t help, so be it, but at a minimum, the mothers and their lawyers had an expectation that these organizations would do nothing to harm their case either. Sadly, that does not seem to be a standard the LGBT organizations lived up to.
Jayne and April went into court expecting a decision only on the constitutionality of the Michigan law that prohibits them from adopting. It was the conservative federal judge hearing their adoption case who made the suggestion that they amend their case to challenge the Michigan law against same-sex marriages. The couple was stunned. So were the lawyers. Judge Bernard Friedman offered the plaintiffs a choice, he would render a verdict on the adoption case as they had presented it, or he would allow them to change their suit to challenge Michigan’s marriage law, which the judge observed, would cure the couple’s adoption problem.
This was not an easy decision for our super-moms. Along with their attorneys, they agonized over it. Their need to secure legal protections for their children cried out for caution. Take the verdict. Let someone else fight the good fight for marriage. But on the other hand, this was a tantalizing suggestion from the judge who would decide the case, surely he would not have ventured such an idea if he had no intention of seeing their motion in a favorable light; to pass up such a chance might be an opportunity wasted.
In the end, Jayne and April reverted to form. They are superheroes and superheroes don’t run from a fight. Even after the judge’s expressed invitation to challenge the Michigan marriage statute, the ACLU ran. The HRC ran. Lambda Legal ran. The NCLR ran. It was the wrong fight, they said. It would be too hard. It wasn’t the right district, the right judge, the right time. The stars just weren’t aligned. Jayne and April and their devoted attorneys stood alone to challenge the marriage laws of Michigan, not for themselves, but for thousands of Michigan same-sex couples and their children who just might be granted equality.
I think Jayne and April would have been disappointed but accepting that they were not offered help from the national LGBT groups, if only those groups had just stood down and allowed them to fight for their children without interference. But, if Buzzfeed is right, the ACLU, the HRC, the NCLR and Lambda Legal, didn’t just abandon Jacob to whatever justice his mothers could find for him, they sabotaged his case by secretly lobbying the judge not to decide Jacob’s fate until after the Supreme Court hears the DOMA and the Prop 8 cases that are before the Court.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the LGBT groups simply made the big picture choice of trying to venue shop and Jacob and his siblings were merely unfortunate collateral damage. At any time, any of these groups could have asked Jayne and April not to pursue Judge Friedman’s suggestion. They could have conveyed to Jayne and April’s attorneys that their national strategy called for keeping the Sixth Circuit from making a decision, before the lawyers spent hundreds of hours preparing their case. Any one of those groups could have whispered to Jayne and April, we appreciate your courage but we have another plan. Take your adoption verdict. Save Jacob. Save Ryanne. Save Nolan. Leave the rest to us.
The national LGBT groups we think of as champions of the powerless, appear to have operated with jaw dropping callousness to undermine the case brought by Jayne and April. Like the woman who gave birth to him, and the social worker who sent him out to die, Jacob’s future was expendable, traded away for the hope there would be better odds for someone else, in a different court. All that is missing in this story of betrayal is a kiss on the cheek and 30 pieces of silver.
Because the powerful national LGBT groups play the odds on what courts are most likely to rule in their favor like a game of chess, Jacob is again forced to play the odds that nothing will happen to his legal mother, Jayne. Should Jayne die, April, the mother whose arms carried that tiny bundle from the hospital, would have no legal right to keep Jacob. He would be left once again to the mercy of the State of Michigan, the very same bureaucracy that once decided to let him die. He deserves so much better.
Today, Jacob’s fate, and those who trifle with it, are On Our Radar.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Columnist for The New Civil Rights Movement. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.