It has taken five years of dealing with government bureaucrats, courtrooms and lawyers, but Ana Leiderman’s spouse may finally be able to do what most adults take for granted — become the legal parent of her children.
Leiderman and her wife, Veronica Botero, won a ruling in Columbia’s Constitutional Court last week that made headlines in the international press as a breakthrough in the fight for civil rights for gays and lesbians in South America. The court ruled that Botero had the right to adopt the biological child of her partner, Leiderman, even though Botero and Leiderman are the same gender.
While the ruling narrowly applies to the specific circumstances of Leiderman and Botero, Leiderman says it has the potential to help other gay and lesbian couples in Columbia.
“Yes, it’s history,” says Leiderman, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in textiles from NC State in the 1990s and now lives in Medellín, Columbia. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard it.”
That’s because it has been such a difficult journey for Leiderman, Botero and their family.
The couple were married in Germany in 2005 in what Leiderman said was technically considered a “civil partnership” and then later married in the United States.
The couple initially looked into adoption in Columbia, where Botero is a university professor. But while there were no explicit laws against adoptions by lesbian couples in Columbia, Leiderman says it was understood that adoption agencies would find reasons not to approve adoptions by lesbian or gay couples. So Leiderman underwent artificial insemination, leading to the birth of Raquel.
But Raquel’s birth certificate listed Leiderman as her only parent. So Leiderman and Botero explored ways that Botero could legally adopt their daughter.
“We looked for a way to grant her the legal protection of both of her parents, both of her moms,” says Leiderman. “But it was also to protect my wife, if something happens, to give her custody. We don’t need a paper to have a family. But in case something happened, we definitely needed a piece of paper.”
Leiderman and Botero were rejected by the government agency responsible for adoptions. “They ignored all the rules,” says Leiderman. “They just said, ‘You are not a family.'”
What followed were years of court cases, rulings and appeals that finally culminated in last week’s ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court. Leiderman says she is still struggling to believe it is real. “By December, we should have a piece of paper, if everything goes okay,” she says. “It’s been so long. I will believe it when I get paper that says our kid has two legal moms.”
Leiderman, who has worked in textile quality and development for companies such as adidas and UnderArmour and taught business and financial literacy, says the ruling applies to both of their children — Raquel, who is now six, and Ari, who is four and was born after the court battle began.
It will send a powerful message, Leiderman says, if her family finally receives full legal status.
“We have families that do exist,” she says. “We are here. It’s just that we are often invisible, and invisible people don’t have rights. It’s an opportunity for other people to come out of the closet, to show that we have good, well-adjusted, intelligent kids.”