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Three-year-old Nora is roaming around the living room of her parents’ home in San Francisco’s Dolores Park area at a pace that would burn out the Energizer bunny. Toys are strewn about and dozens of brightly colored cupcake shells have been arranged on the floor in an upside-down pattern that no adult could begin to decipher. Covered up on the couch, Nora starts barking like a dog, all the while wearing one red shoe and one black slipper. In other words, it’s a typical evening in the household of a healthy, active toddler. But there’s one big difference: Nora’s parents are “Daddy Charlie” and “Poppy Jim,” two gay men who adopted the cute, dark-haired girl on Valentine’s Day 1997. They’re also lawyers. Charles Spiegel, 42, is a real estate partner in the San Francisco office of Chicago’s Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, while James Emery, 41, is a partner practicing patent litigation and attorney malpractice defense for Keker & Van Nest. The proud and loving fathers are part of a phenomenon that many are calling “the gayby boom.” Same-sex couples around the country — and especially in the San Francisco Bay Area — have begun adopting in what experts say, anecdotally, seems like record numbers. And gay lawyers have joined in. “Just walk through the Castro and see all the strollers,” says Ora Prochovnick, director of the housing advocacy clinic at New College of California School of Law. “There have always been gay people with kids, but they were in straight relationships,” says Prochovnick, a lawyer who also helps guide same-sex couples through the adoption process. “What’s new is parenting as an out gay person.” Participation by gay lawyers, especially male couples, is also fairly new. Not only was there the perception in the past that time-consuming legal careers precluded parenting, some say, there was also the fact that society wouldn’t accept gay couples — particularly two men — as parents. “Not a decade ago, coming out meant the realization that you wouldn’t be a parent, a dad,” says 33-year-old Jeffrey Byrne, a former Morrison & Foerster and Steel, Clarence & Buckley associate who stays home these days to raise Anna, the 2-1/2-year-old girl he and Bruce Deming adopted in March 1998. “But more and more people are realizing it’s a possibility,” adds Deming, a 36-year-old former Farella Braun & Martel associate who’s now general counsel and vice president of corporate development for Workspeed Inc., a Web-based software company for the real estate industry. “We get calls once or twice a year from people who are thinking about it.” Hard figures on the actual number of adoptions by same-sex couples are impossible to come by, though. How many adopting couples are gay and lesbian lawyers is even more indiscernible. Kathryn Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says states don’t keep adoption statistics on race or ethnicity, let alone the parents’ sexual orientation or occupation. Yet, she insists, there’s no denying that a “gayby boom” is under way and that gay lawyers are along for the ride. That could be because lawyers know the legal system. “They feel more at ease going forward with adopting,” Kendell says. There are several reasons for the adoption surge in California, she and others say, including the abolishment of a much-reviled state policy against same-sex adoptions, the steady maturation of gays into a more family-oriented community, and changing social attitudes as homosexuals become more visible to everyday people. “It is becoming a far less dramatic event for lesbians and gay men to be parents,” Kendell says. “Even in my hometown of Ogden, Utah, and in places like Fargo, N.D., and Brewton, Ala., there are changing attitudes.” HOMOPHOBIA AS OBSTACLE That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t adoption obstacles — some that afflict couples of all sexual persuasions and others that directly affect gay and lesbian couples. Working with a lawyer or possessing one or two law degrees can be invaluable for couples. The difficulties depend on the kind of adoption pursued, whether it’s a private domestic adoption in which birth mothers and adopting couples work together, usually through a lawyer, to place a baby; agency adoptions, in which the state places children — many who have fetal drug and alcohol addictions or are scarred by abuse — in foster care; or an international adoption, in which couples work with foreign governments to adopt children. Spiegel, chairman of the board of directors of the All Our Families Coalition, a San Francisco group that advocates rights for lesbian and gay parents, and Emery, pro bono counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights on a case about gay high school students, chose to go with a private domestic adoption. Nora’s adoption went fairly smoothly, but when Emery and Spiegel tried to adopt a baby brother for Nora later, they ran into a classic complication. The boy’s 15-year-old mom changed her mind and took advantage of a California law that gives biological mothers six months to reclaim their children. The slight complication that Spiegel and Emery experienced with Nora’s adoption was unique. Nora — whose full name is Nora Emery Spiegel — is Native American, and tribes are supposed to give their approval before letting their children go to outsiders. The birth mother, however, wasn’t able to identify a particular tribe to contact and, moreover, heartily approved of her child’s newfound papas. “She picked out a picture frame [for a photo of Nora],” Spiegel says, “with the words, ‘I Love My Daddy Twice.’ “ Spiegel and Emery were fortunate. Prochovnick, of New College, says not all birth mothers are as open-minded. “I’ve seen situations where [gay couples] went through the whole process,” she says, “and someone in the biological family has gotten wind that queers are adopting and blocked the process.” Some states, like Florida and Utah, completely prohibit adoptions by gay couples. California hasn’t gone that far, but under former Gov. Pete Wilson it was policy for the Department of Social Services to recommend against adoptions by same-sex couples, even if social workers found the environment ideal for the children. Judges in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles routinely ignored the negative recommendations if warranted, but gay couples in more conservative parts of the state often found their dreams dashed at the last moment. Spiegel, Emery, Deming and Byrne all adopted under the Wilson system, but luckily encountered no major obstacles. But a lawyer with a 5-year-old boy says he and his partner were forced to jointly adopt, rather than do what they wanted — which was to have one of them adopt the boy first, then later pursue a second-parent adoption. “They said we’d have to have another home study for a second-parent adoption,” says the lawyer who requests anonymity. “There was no reason for it. It was institutionalized homophobia.” California Gov. Gray Davis rescinded the discriminatory adoption policy two years ago. “Now the process has integrity,” Kendell of the lesbian rights center says. “Social workers can be honest and can make a truly fair assessment based on his or her professional evaluation of the ability of the couple to care for the child involved.” GOING ABROAD TO ADOPT Homophobia, though, still exists with international adoptions. “No country will place [a child] if they know you are queer,” Prochovnick says. “By the time you go overseas, you are hiding [that fact].” That’s all too true, say Lisa Katz and Sharon Heath, who share their home in San Francisco’s Mission District with two girls — 4-year-old Miriam and 1-year-old Rose — whom they adopted abroad. “I’ve been more closeted during the adoption process than I have been in my whole life,” says Katz, 43, who is a deputy public defender in San Francisco. Heath, 47, a deputy district attorney in the family support division of the San Mateo County DA’s office, says Katz officially adopted the children on foreign territory, while Heath plans to proceed soon with second-parent adoptions in the United States. Luckily, the two say, the foreign officials they worked with on the adoptions made sure things ran smoothly, while turning a blind eye to the possibility that these were not single-parent adoptions. “They essentially have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” Heath says. Katz and Heath are still wary enough, though, to request that their daughters’ nationality not be identified for fear of hurting other same-sex couples’ chances of adopting in their kids’ birth country. “We’re secure at this point,” Katz says. “But out of respect for people adopting in the future, we want to be discreet. Homophobia is a real issue in international adoptions.” No matter what they’ve had to go through, all of the parents say it’s worth the effort. Watching Anna scurry around their home in San Francisco’s Noe Valley one evening, Deming and Byrne recount that they had a wedding ceremony in 1996 because they wanted to be as married as possible before starting a family. He and Deming also proudly point out that their closest legal relationship to each other is as Anna’s parents. They have no joint tax filing status and aren’t even listed as a couple on their mortgage, but they do have that legal, valid “daddy” and “poppa” connection with Anna. “She creates the closest connection between us,” Byrne says. “It’s really not for everybody,” he adds, “but gay and lesbian or queer people should realize if that’s what their heart longs for, they should do it.”

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