Mothers Against All Odds: Meet the Aleniers

This week, in light of Mother's Day, GLAAD will be highlighting the stories of courageous mothers who are providing loving and permanent homes for their families. In this first installment, meet two mothers who, despite a 33-year-old ban on gay men and lesbians from adopting in Florida, were determined to keep their family intact.

Our names are Vanessa and Melanie Alenier. We’ve been in a loving and committed long-term relationship for 5 years, and in December of 2008, we decided that we wanted to grow our family and have children. While our choices were artificial insemination or adoption, we weren’t sure what to do.  Obviously artificial insemination can be costly and emotionally exhausting and the law in Florida, at that time, categorically prohibited gay men and lesbian women from adopting children. Luckily, fate intervened.

Within a month of deciding to grow our family, we received a phone call that changed our lives.

Vanessa’s cousin gave birth to a baby boy but was unable to provide a loving and permanent home for the child. As a result, The Department of Children and Families (DCF) stepped in immediately and contacted family members.  After praying for direction, there was no doubt in our mind we were meant to have this baby. The baby boy was going to go into foster care unless one of his relative's came forward to intercept him from the state's system. Without a doubt in our minds, this was our child.

We quickly tried to figure out what to do and how to get him. We thankfully got in touch with the proper person at DCF.

Within a day, Vanessa was in court before Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia, and she was granted visitation rights to see him in the hospital. We had to have a home inspection and prepare a space for our son in order for the court to approve that he could come and live with us. We decorated a nursery, bought clothes, bottles, diapers, you name it. We did what most parents have 9 months to prepare for in a matter of 5 days.

Seven days later, Vanessa was back in front of Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia who found that it was in the best interest of the child to be placed in our care and custody. Our son, whom we named Ethan, was 9 days old when he was released to us from the hospital.

What a glorious, miracle of a day. We felt blessed beyond words to be mommies to this precious little boy. He is amazing. We love him more than we could ever explain. We are his family. He is our child. But we knew we had a battle in front of us to make this Ethan’s permanent home.

Every day since bringing Ethan home we knew adopting him would be an issue. We hoped that even though there was an adoption ban in place against gay people we would be an exception since he was our blood. Then we received the adoption paperwork, started completing it until we got to the question: "Are you a homosexual?”

We stared at the question and decided to skip it. We completed the rest of the paperwork, and after weeks of discussing it, we decided we could not start our family off with a lie. What kind of example would we be setting for our son. 

Vanessa continued going to court every two weeks for follow-up hearings until one day DCF said, "Judge, this women will not be able to adopt this child" and my heart fell to the ground as the tears rolled down my face.

The next day we hired attorneys who laid out our options: we could challenge and lose or settle for permanent guardianship.  But unfortunately permanent guardianship means he will never really be ours. We decided to press forward for full adoption and spent the next year and a half challenging the state of Florida to keep our family.

At our adoption trial in November 2009, our wonderful Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia, ruled that the categorical ban on adoption by gay and lesbian couples was unconstitutional and granted our adoption in that trial. However, 30 days later DCF appealed our adoption. This was a very devastating blow to us. We really hoped they would just let our family be.

Our oral arguments were heard in front of the three-judge panel in the Third District Court of Appeals on September 8, 2010. This was the hardest day so far! The only thing that got us through the motions was knowing if the law is ruled unconstitutional in the higher courts, then the law would hopefully be thrown out in Florida. That would open the doors for all gay couples and gay foster parents to begin adopting in Florida. So many children need permanent homes and families. Why would Florida want to prevent these children from being adopted by human beings that should have the ability to adopt and have equal love to give?

On October 27, 2010, the Third District Court of appeals ruled in favor of our adoption. They ruled affirmed with no opinion written. With no opinion written it would make it a little more difficult for the state to appeal. The thirtieth day came and went with no appeal from the state. This was by far the happiest day of our lives.

Now we have a beautiful 2-year-old boy who has no idea what's gone on around him the first two years of his life. The only thing that concerns him is his blanket, his Turtle, and his family.

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