The ACLU this week filed a federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s ban on second parent adoptions.
Second parent adoptions occur when one partner in an unmarried couple adopts the other partner’s biological or adopted children so as to be able to access the legal recognition of parenthood.
For several years family court judges in North Carolina had recognized second parent adoptions. However, in 2010 the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that second parent adoptions involving same-sex couples isn’t legal in the state because the state confers parenting rights as part of its narrow definition of marriage factored against biological parenting rights. This means that even though the so-called second parent may have raised the family’s children as her own for a number of years, a second parent would have no parental claim should the relationship dissolve or something happen to the designated parent.
For obvious reasons, this is a precarious and distressing state of affairs for any same-sex couples in the state.
Said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina:
“North Carolina’s law denies children the permanency and security of a loving home simply because their parents are lesbian or gay. This is fundamentally wrong. No parent should have to worry about what will happen to their children if something happens to their partner.”
The full list of plaintiffs in the case are Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne, Durham; Crystal Hendrix and Leigh Smith, of Asheville; Lee Knight Caffery and Dana Draa, of Charlotte; Shana Carignan and Megan Parker, of Greensboro; Leslie Zanaglio and Terri Beck, of Morrisville; Shawn Long and Craig Johnson, of Wake Forest.
Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne, one of the couples, have enjoyed a 15-year relationship. Each woman carried one of their two children. However, when their daughter was born, the couple was treated rudely by a member of the hospital staff and was made to produce legal paperwork confirming their partnership. Had the women been able to establish themselves as legally recognized parents to both their children, this may not have happened and even if it had, a means to ending the dispute would have been more readily available.
“We were treated as if our family was less than other families during what should have been one of the happiest occasions of our lives,” said Marcie Fisher-Borne in an ACLU statement. “We don’t ever want there to be any question as to who should care for our children. If something were to happen to either one of us, it could tear our family apart.”
Crystal Hendrix and Leigh Smith, another couple who are plaintiffs in this suit, are raising two children together, 2-year-old Quinn and Joe, their baby. Crystal carried the children and therefore is recognized as their mother, but Leigh, even though she is the stay-at-home mom, can’t be recognized as a legal parent of the kids. Matters are further complicated because Crystal’s parents are against the pair’s relationship. If Crystal were to die or become legally incapacitated, Leigh would be a legal stranger to the kids and they have concerns that Crystal’s parents may not allow Leigh any access at all. You can hear their story below:
Another couple in the suit, Megan Parker and Shana Carignan (pictured), have been together for several years. In 2010, Megan adopted Jax, who has cerebral palsy, limited speech and mobility. Due to the second parent adoption ban, Shana can’t become a legal parent to Jax, and when Jax was hospitalized later that year, the hospital wouldn’t allow Shana to stay past visiting hours because she wasn’t considered his parent. Hear their story below:
“The current policy is discriminatory and doesn’t take into account what’s best for a child,” said Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. “These parents want the same thing as any other parents: to be able to provide the best possible care and protection for their children. The law should not stand in the way of allowing loving couples to share responsibility for their families.”
Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have authorized second parent adoptions, while five states explicitly ban them.
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