On Paper As Parent And Child, Gay Couples Annul Adoptions To Marry | KUOW News and Information

On Paper As Parent And Child, Gay Couples Annul Adoptions To Marry

Dec 25, 2015
Originally published on December 25, 2015 4:14 pm

We usually think about adoption as a relationship solely between parents and children.

It's not.

Before same-sex marriage became legal across the United States, some couples would become parent and child — just on paper — to get rights they were otherwise denied.

That's what Sergio Cervetti and Ken Rinker of Doylestown, Pa., did years after meeting in the fall of 1965. Rinker was 19 at the time and just back from a trip to Europe with his student dance troupe. He says he felt invigorated by Cervetti, who was five years older and a composer.

"I wasn't seeking a partner, I wasn't seeking love; it just happened," Rinker says. "So suddenly I found this person who was, to me, making my world round again."

Two years later they moved in together.

Both have considered themselves as good as married for decades, but for most of their lives together, there was no way for them to legally become family. Another same-sex couple they knew did some research. "We were told that the best thing will be to adopt," Cervetti says.

Long before same-sex marriage, one member of a couple would adopt the younger member to confer benefits like shared health insurance. It was also a way to make sure partners would be recognized as family in the event one member became sick or passed away. Members of same-sex couples have been forcibly removed from a partner's hospital room and have been denied powers-of-attorney and other legal benefits.

So in 2000, Cervetti adopted Rinker.

"This is something we've known about for years, this practice, but there's never been a way to track numbers, and there still isn't a way to track numbers," says Nancy Polikoff, a law professor at American University and an expert in LGBT family law.

Polikoff says the practice wasn't rare; she's heard of cases around the country. These adoptions, while the best option at the time, don't offer quite as many benefits — including some tax benefits — as same-sex marriage, which is legal everywhere now.

That decision actually created a dilemma for couples like Cervetti and Rinker. In 25 states, a parent can face jail time for marrying their adoptive child.

Polikoff says almost every annulment she has heard about has gone through.

Cervetti and Rinker had no trouble convincing the courts to annul their adoption. "It took 10 minutes," Cervetti says.

Just like that, they went from legally father and son to able to marry. One Pennsylvania couple has been denied an annulment of their adult adoption; that case is going to a higher court early next year.

In July, just three months shy of their 50th anniversary, Cervetti and Rinker got married in a small ceremony.

"It was Sergio, me, the mayor and the two cats. And some champagne. And that was it!" Rinker says.

He says this marriage isn't about fireworks — they've always had those — but about having every right to be together that they can.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We usually think of adoption as a relationship solely between parents and children. Well, it's not. Before same-sex marriage became legal across the United States, one way for gay couples to become family was for one adult to adopt the other. Laura Benshoff from member station WHYY reports that adoptions are now being annulled so that couples can marry.

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Sergio Cervetti and Ken Rinker met at a party in the fall of 1965.

SERGIO CERVETTI: And I didn't say anything and he didn't say anything.

BENSHOFF: Cervetti was on a date with someone else. They met again a few weeks later.

CERVETTI: On Halloween of 1965, he was there and my whole world disappeared. Please don't make me talk about it.

BENSHOFF: Cervetti, who's from Uruguay, gets emotional at the memory. Rinker was 19 at the time and just back from a trip to Europe with his student dance troupe. He says he felt invigorated by Cervetti, who was five years older and a composer.

KEN RINKER: I wasn't seeking a partner. I wasn't seeking love. It just happened. So suddenly, I found this person who was, to me, making my world round again.

BENSHOFF: They became a couple and both have considered themselves as good as married for decades. But for most of their life together, there was no way for them, legally, to become family. Another same-sex couple they knew did some research.

CERVETTI: We were told that the best thing would be to adopt.

BENSHOFF: Long before same-sex marriage, one member of a couple would adopt the younger member to confer benefits like shared health insurance. It was also a way to make sure partners would be recognized as family in the event one member became sick or passed away. Members of same-sex couples have been forcibly removed from their partner's hospital rooms and have been denied powers of attorney and other legal benefits. So in 2000, Cervetti adopted Rinker. Nancy Polikoff is a law professor at American University and an expert in LGBT family law.

NANCY POLIKOFF: This is something we've known about for years, this practice. But there's never been a way to track numbers, and there still isn't a way to track numbers.

BENSHOFF: She says the practice wasn't rare, and she's heard of cases around the country. These adoptions, while the best option at the time, don't offer quite as many benefits as same-sex marriage, which is legal everywhere now. That decision actually created a dilemma for couples like Cervetti and Rinker. In 25 states, a parent can face jail time for marrying their adoptive child. Polikoff says, almost every annulment she's heard about has gone through. Cervetti and Rinker had no trouble convincing the courts to annul their adoption.

CERVETTI: Ten minutes.

BENSHOFF: Ten minutes?

CERVETTI: Ten minutes.

BENSHOFF: Just like that, they went from legally father and son to able to marry. There is one Pennsylvania couple that's been denied an annulment of their adult adoption. That case is going to a higher court early next year. Just three months shy of their 50th anniversary, Cervetti and Rinker got married in a very small ceremony July of this year.

RINKER: And so the mayor came here. It was Sergio, me, the mayor, and the two cats and some champagne, and that was it.

BENSHOFF: He says this marriage isn't about fireworks - they've always had those - but about having every right to be together that they can. For NPR News, I'm Laura Benshoff in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.