Montgomery side-steps opposition to same-sex marriage, outsources all adoption cases

Ben Giles//July 10, 2015

Montgomery side-steps opposition to same-sex marriage, outsources all adoption cases

Ben Giles//July 10, 2015

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (Cronkite News Service Photo by Christina Silvestri)
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (Cronkite News Service Photo by Christina Silvestri)

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has outsourced adoption services to private law firms, which may be providing help to married same-sex couples that County Attorney Bill Montgomery had previously denied.

County Attorney spokesman Jerry Cobb said the office has for months sent all requests for adoption services to contracted law firms. The outsourcing of adoption services is part of a larger reorganization of responsibilities at the County Attorney’s Office, Cobb said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona has threatened to sue Montgomery if he does not provide those services, most recently in a July 1 letter in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision extending marriage rights to same-sex couples across the nation.

The issue may be moot now, Cobb said.

Though Montgomery didn’t explicitly give outside counsel handling adoption services a directive to serve same-sex couples – and still opposes providing the service, arguing there’s no case law or statute requiring him to do so – he’s also not telling them not to.

“They’re responsible for all the decisions and screening, if any,” Cobb said. “We’re not directing them at all as to who to provide services to or who not to.”

Montgomery refused to handle adoption petitions for Leticia and Lenora Reyes-Pteroff, a same-sex married couple represented by the ACLU. The couple wanted to do a step-parent adoption to allow Lenora to become the adoptive parent of Leticia’s son, who was conceived through artificial insemination.

Though a U.S. District Court ruling in October declared Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Montgomery said in an April 9 press release that he isn’t going to apply more to the law than what was directly addressed in the court rulings or supplant himself for the Legislature, which hasn’t passed any law allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

Dan Pachoda, senior counsel at the Arizona ACLU, said it remains to be seen if Montgomery’s outsourcing of adoption services eases the organization’s concerns.

“If we find that there is no – at all – difference in the way services are provided and they are fully provided as required, it’s unlikely we would continue the case.”

Cobb said that, to his knowledge, the County Attorney’s Office’s outside legal counsel are now providing those services Montgomery had refused.

“Anyone that contacts our office is directed there,” Cobb said. “We don’t know if someone is a same-sex couple or not unless they announce it, because we don’t ask people ‘are they gay’ when they call our office.”

Cobb declined to comment directly on the threat of a lawsuit by the ACLU.

Earlier this year, Montgomery pushed for legislation to relieve his office of the financial burden of providing representation to adoptive parents. Proponents said it would free up resources and allow county attorneys to focus efforts on prosecuting criminals, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

Montgomery’s lobbyist, Rebecca Baker, testified in a legislative committee in January that the office handles about 300 adoptions a year.

Funding for outsourcing adoptions services falls under a $700,000 line item in the county attorney’s budget for legal services, Cobb said.

Adoption attorney Claudia Work, who’s also an advocate for gay rights issues, said the threat of a lawsuit by the ACLU is probably moot absent evidence that any of the law firms retained by Montgomery’s office is discriminating against same-sex couples.

Work said she’s heard directly from attorneys representing a lesbian couple whose adoption efforts are being assisted by the County Attorney’s Office’s outside counsel.

By outsourcing all adoptions, Montgomery is able to walk a fine line between expressing his opposition to providing adoption services to same-sex couples and allowing it to happen, she said.

“If he’s saying now, ‘I, personally, as a private citizen, do not believe this should be done, but our office is not discriminating and outsourcing all adoption,’ it is a really squishy line, but, presumably, he could do that,” Work said.