Before same-sex marriage was made legal in Michigan, unmarried same-sex couples often had difficulty jointly adopting children in Michigan. Some judges, however, allowed second-parent adoptions, where a non-biological parent joins with a biological parent to adopt a child they are raising together. 

T.J. McCant adopted in this way in 2005, receiving a valid order of adoption from a Shiawassee County judge. Later, McCant became disabled and applied for Social Security benefits that any disabled parent can receive to help raise his or her legal child. An administrative law judge in the Social Security Administration denied benefits, stating that McCant’s adoption is invalid because unmarried couples are not permitted to jointly adopt children under Michigan law. 

The ACLU of Michigan represented McCant in appealing this decision to the Social Security Appeals Council in 2014. We argued that unmarried couples are allowed to adopt, and in any event once a valid adoption order is issued by a state judge, the child is entitled to the same benefits that would be due to a legally adopted child in any other family. 

In November 2014 the Appeals Council remanded the case to the local field office for reconsideration of its initial decision. In January 2018, an administrative law judge issued a decision in McCant’s favor, awarding back benefits from 2011 through the present. 

(ACLU Attorney Jay Kaplan)